MIT spin-out NuTonomy has beaten Uber to the punch, releasing the world’s first autonomous taxi service after landing an agreement with Singapore authorities.
Operating in a testbed of 2.5sq km in Singapore’s one-north business district, NuTonomy has been testing on the site since April ahead of this week’s launch.
Starting today (25 August), users can hail a NuTonomy taxi using a specific app, one of the handful of trial vehicles will rock up and in they get.
The vehicles used are Renault Zoes and a specifically configured Mitsubishi i-MiEV, with a NuTonomy engineer sitting in each car to monitor performance throughout the live trial.
It has been a speedy trip so far for the company, which only signed an agreement with the Singapore Land Transport Authority at the start of the month, with this trial representing the “first, rapid result of the partnership”.
Karl Iagnemma, CEO and co-founder of NuTonomy, said the project is a “direct reflection” of the current maturity level enjoyed by the company.
“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,” he said.
The company secured $16m in funding in May, as a growing number of investors look to get in as early as possible to the autonomous vehicle market.
While NuTonomy is trialling in Singapore, it is currently testing in both the US and UK, with Jaguar Land Rovers currently involved.
An Associated Press reporter tried out a NuTonomy taxi yesterday, noticing the NuTonomy engineer having to manually press the brakes on one occasion when a vehicle, which appeared to be parked, suddenly began moving.
The time-frame for this trial has not been confirmed, but a broadening out of the test zone, as well as an inclusion of charges for customers (it’s all free for now), will be the next steps.
“I don’t expect there to be a time where we say, ‘We’ve learned enough’,” Iagnemma said, also saying the software installed can make the right decisions at the right time.
The company hopes its leadership in autonomous driving will eventually lead to partnerships with automakers, tech companies, logistics companies and others.
“What we’re finding is the number of interested parties is really overwhelming,” he said.
Uber plans to release its own autonomous taxis, however, NuTonomy has clearly stolen a march. Although, Uber’s plans don’t stop there. Last week, it bid $680m for driverless-truck company Otto.