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By Phil LeBeau, CNBC

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.

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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.