Singapore is taking the next step in the move towards self-driving vehicles with the world's first public trial of self-driving taxis.
Robo-taxis developed by nuTonomy, a Massachusetts-based transportation software firm, will operate autonomously in a Singapore business district on a trial basis beginning Thursday. The vehicles will be specially configured Renault and Mitsubishi models. A select number of Singapore residents will use nuTonomy's smartphone app to hail a robo-taxi for a ride at no charge.
"The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting, and this feedback will give nuTonomy a unique advantage as we work toward deployment of a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018," said Karl Iagnemma, CEO and co-founder of nuTonomy.
While the plan is for the robo-taxis' software to make all decisions on the movement of the vehicles, there will be a nuTonomy engineer riding in the front seat to take control if needed.
The launch of these robo-taxis comes as the ride-share operator Uber prepares to start a trial program in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania where autonomously-driven vehicles will give Uber customers rides in certain areas. Like the robo-taxi program in Singapore, the self-driving Uber vehicles in Pittsburgh will also have engineers in the driver seat to take control if the situation calls for it.
Researchers, automakers and tech firms believe the hardware, software, and artificial intelligence needed for autonomously-driven vehicles is rapidly approaching a point where self-driving cars will soon be ready for real-world use.
The nuTonomy robo-taxis are one more step in seeing if the self-driving car is ready for everyday use in the real world.