The startup launched the initiative with six cars; more expected by end of the year
Self-driving cars are considered to be the future of transportation. Now, Singapore became the first country to launch a self-driving taxi service with taxis operating under nuTonomy. The startup has also beaten Uber in the launch of driverless taxis. Currently, Uber has plans to launch its driverless taxi fleet this month in Pittsburgh.
Self-driving taxis will start picking passengers in Singapore from today onwards. However, the test phase is currently limited with six autonomous vehicles only. These six cars include Renault Zoes and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs that have been modified by nuTonomy. In the beginning, rides will be offered from pre-determined pickup and drop-off points within 2.5 square miles of each other.
The company plans to add another half a dozen cars to its fleet by the end of 2016, and has a goal of having an entire fleet of self-driving taxis on the road by 2018. nuTonomy believes that by operating more self-driving taxis, it will be able to reduce the traffic congestion in the country. Moreover, COO Doug Parker believes that traffic on roads could be reduced from 900,000 to 300,000 cars.
The company said that there is currently no time frame for its test trial. CEO Karl Lagnemma said he hopes that riders will start paying more once the company adds more pickup and drop off points to its service. nuTonomy is also operating in cities of Asia, America and Europe, but didn’t say when it’ll introduce self-driving taxis in these regions.
For now, the company plans to master its technology and strengthen its foothold in Singapore. The government of Singapore has already laid out a series of targets that nuTonomy has to meet before it could operate in other cities. No details regarding these targets were revealed.
Just like Uber, nuTonomy will also provide free rides to customers. Its vehicles will have an engineer behind the wheel who will take over in case of an emergency. A researcher will monitor the performance of the car remotely. Unlike Uber where passengers would be chosen at random for self-driving tests, nuTonomy passengers have to register beforehand in order to use the service.
The cars operated by the company are powered by six Lidars. The cars also have two cameras to look out for obstacles and traffic lights.
Despite being the first company to conduct trials, nuTonomy doesn’t have a strong bank balance and is not publicly known like other giants in the same field. So far, it has raised $19 million through two funding rounds.
Most ride hailing companies have been making rapid progress in their self-driving technology with Google clocking in more than 1.5 million miles with its autonomous car. Recently, Uber acquired a self-driving startup, Otto, for $600 million while General Motors snapped up Cruise Automation for $1 billion.