TECH: World’s First Autonomous Taxis on the Road in Singapore

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The world’s first autonomous taxis are cruising the streets of Singapore, and they come from a company you probably don’t know. It’s not Google or Apple or Uber, but a company called nuTonomy that has launched the world’s first official driverless taxis.

The service is initially being launched as a small trial, which shouldn’t surprise anyone given that no one really knows how this is going to work out in the real world. The company was founded by two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and began live testing of their vehicles on Thursday.

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It’s a free service, and it’s only available in a small business district in Singapore. The area is called one-north and it’s a campus-like space that’s home to various technology companies.

Although autonomous vehicles have been testing on the roads for several years, this is the first time they’ve been opened up to public use as taxis. One of the largest obstacles companies face with this kind of testing is getting government approval, but Singapore gave nuTonomy the go ahead,

The government of Singapore wants to be a technology center and provides funding and support for many start-up tech firms. They’ve also developed several research partnerships all in an effort to make Singapore attractive to new technology companies.

The nuTonomy taxis are the Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric, and although they’re completely autonomous, there will still be a human driver behind the wheel, to be safe. That driver is a computer engineer who will monitor the car’s performance and take over in an emergency. This is a trial period. Once the trial is over those human drivers will disappear.

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Anyone in the test area can hail one of these cars through an app on their smartphone. The test area right now, however, is very small at about .8 square miles. They want to increase that area, but they need to do it slowly.

The government approved the project, but they want to see benchmarks met before they’re willing to expand the allowable test area to handle more roads with heavier traffic. NuTonomy is hoping for a 3.7-mile route.

Although this is a test project to start, the company hopes they’ll be the first in the world to offer this as a regular service. Their target date for having it available throughout Singapore is 2018, so you won’t have too long to wait.