nuTonomy driveless-car / photo: techinasia.com

Singapore to have the world’s first self-driving taxi service, starting from One-North

Singapore will soon have a self-driving taxi service operated in the city-state; the world’s first self-driving taxis started in Singapore today (25 August) as nuTonomy offers its service to the public for the first time.

nuTonomy is offering a free ride to selected members of the public where they can hail for the taxi through their smartphones. This trial will be carried out in One-North, a 2.5 square-mile district area at specific pick-up and drop-off locations.

During his the National Day Rally speech on Sunday (21 August), Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong while urging companies to respond to change in order to stay relevant – noted that due to technology and globalisation, change is “fast and furious” – also mentioned that a trial of driverless taxis will take place in One-North, and this would probably disrupt the services of Uber, Grab and also taxi drivers

This will be a small start by nuTonomy, using only six cars which will be increased to 12 cars by the end of the year.

In its press release on 1 August, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) announced separate partnership agreements with Delphi Automotive Systems and nuTonomy to pursue the government’s vision of a car-lite future, where existing public transport will be complemented by a new system of shared mobility-on-demand services powered by fleets of self-driving vehicles (SDVs).

LTA’s collaboration with Delphi and nuTonomy comes under the Singapore Autonomous Vehicle Initiative (SAVI), a joint partnership between LTA and A*STAR to provide a technical platform for industry partners and stakeholders to conduct research and development (R&D) and test-bedding of AV technology, applications and solutions.

nuTonomy is a Singapore-based company founded in 2013 by Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, and it has been conducting on-road testing with its Mitsubishi i-MiEV in One-North.  nuTonomy operates the modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electrics with a driver in front to take back the wheel if necessary and a researcher in the back who watches the car’s computers.

One North overview / photo: LTA
One North overview / photo: LTA

Every car is fitted with six sets of Lidar — a detecting system that uses laser operated radar — including one that continuously spins on the roof. There are also two cameras on the dashboard to scan for obstacles and detect changes in traffic lights.

nuTonomy said the ultimate goal is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018, to help cut the number of cars on Singapore’s congested roads. Doug Parker, nuTonomy’s chief operating officer, said autonomous or self-driving taxis could ultimately reduce the number of cars on Singapore’s roads by third, from 900,000 to 300,000.

“When you can take that many cars off the road, it creates a lot of possibilities. You can create smaller roads, you can create much smaller car parks, I think it will change how people interact with the city going forward.” Parker said.

Bloomberg reported that an Associated Press reporter who took a ride on Wednesday observed that the safety driver had to step on the brakes once, when a car was obstructing the test car’s lane and another vehicle, which appeared to be parked, suddenly began moving in the oncoming lane.

Mr Iagnemma said the company is confident that its software can make good decisions.

He hopes the company’s leadership in autonomous driving will eventually lead to partnerships with automakers, tech companies, logistics businesses and others.

The other LTA’s partner, Delphi Automotive, plans to start next year.