The autonomous self-driving vehicle craze has exploded in countries all over the world. From the United States to Europe, the march of development has finally hit Asia, in particular the island nation of Singapore. And they actually got a significant lead on everyone else having just started operating – on a trial basis – the world’s first ever self-driving taxi service.
Beating out the likes of similar projects from General Motors, Tesla, Google and Uber, Singapore-based NuTonomy launched their service on Thursday August 25. Even better, according to The Wall Street Journal, the trial is open for public commuters to use, not just to a group of engineering and technical testers. Now a technological leap that has always been seen as landing a few years more in the future after constant trial and error is already wowing Singaporeans; and for now it’s all free.
To make things easier to monitor, the NuTonomy driverless taxi service public trial covers only a single business district in Singapore that is home to a wide variety of tech and biotech companies. The service has chosen several local residents and given them a mobile app that enables them to hail one of the active self-driving cars. The vehicles customized for the NuTonomy test include the Mitsubishi iMiev and the Renault Zoe, and prior to the service trial they have been road-testing the self-driving modifications ever since April of this year.
For the duration of the trial period, data collected on the cars’ road performance and the mobile app usage will enable NuTonomy to fine-tune their driverless software and hardware, online booking process, efficiency of the system to navigate routes, and find ways to better the passenger riding experience. As with other self-driving vehicle tests going on globally, a human tester sits on the driver’s seat, observing the system do its work and preparing to take over the steering wheel if there is a breakdown or emergency.
NuTonomy was originally founded in the US by two MIT robotics researchers. The startup firm went on to begin developing software and technology for driverless cars, eventually setting up shop in Singapore where their taxi service trial was given the green light by the government, which was interested in transforming their city-state into a veritable tech hub through partnerships with NuTonomy and similar technological outfits.
Ironically, despite its huge strides in Singapore, NuTonomy is still small fry to other firms dabbling in driverless tech, in terms of funding and publicity. Uber for instance, will initiate its own self- driving trials before the month is out, and their testing area will be the entire city of Pittsburgh, to be covered and serviced by about 100 driverless cars.
But that’s just fine for NuTonomy CEO Doug Parker. To him it’s a tech race yes, but there was bound to be a handful of winners for this.
Photo Credit to venturebeat.com