Earlier in the week, Uber made waves when the company announced that it would be deploying self-driving cars to assist in its operations in Pittsburgh before the end of the month.
This Thursday however, in Singapore, a relatively unknown startup named nuTonomy has pipped mighty Uber to the post with the launch of what could possibly be the world’s first self-driving taxi service.
The company, a spin-out from MIT, has already begun public trials in Singapore’s One-North district, picking up select members of the public. For the time being, nuTonomy’s fleet of vehicles is limited to either a Mitsubishi i-Miev or a Renault Zoe but the company will be adding more cars in the near future.
nuTonomy was founded in 2013 and has received nearly $20 million in funding from the likes of Ford Chairman Bill Ford, Samsung Ventures and EDBI, the investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board.
Customers with nuTonomy’s app are able to summon a vehicle anywhere in the test area much in the same way similar human-powered ride sharing services work.
For now at least, all nuTonomy rides are free of charge and will include a safety driver behind the wheel in case of an emergency. But in the near future, the company hopes that the general public will warm up to the idea of a pick up from a car without a driver.
In order to do this, the company hopes to use the next year and a half to work out any kinks in the software and hardware so as to ready these robo-taxi’s for a 2018 launch.
“Throughout the trial, nuTonomy will collect and evaluate valuable data related to software system performance, vehicle routing efficiency, the vehicle booking process, and the overall passenger experience. This data will enable nuTonomy to refine its software in preparation for the launch of a widely-available commercial robo-taxi service in Singapore in 2018,” the company said in a release.
The secret behind nuTonomy’s tech is a set of six LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) sensors which gives nuTonomy’s vehicles the ability to make sense of its environment and its position in said environment. The cars will also be fitted with two dashboard cameras to deal with obstacles and traffic lights.
A “lidar” that detects obstacles using laser sensors is seen atop an autonomous vehicle during its test drive in Singapore. (AP Photo/Yong Teck Lim)
According to nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma, “nuTonomy’s first-in-the-world public trial is a direct reflection of the level of maturity that we have achieved with our AV software system. The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting.”
In addition to Singapore, nuTonomy claims to be operating self-driving cars in Michigan and the United Kingdom, where it tests software in partnership with automotive manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover.