Spot this taxi’s driver
Singapore allows tests of world’s first driverless taxis to ease congestion
THE marathon race to deliver self-driving cars continues relentlessly and the latest company to elbow its way to the front of the pack is nuTonomy,
The 2013 startup company last week made good on its promise, made during tests in April, to follow up with more tests to give the world its first self-driving taxis.
nuTonomy is currently testing six robot-taxis in Singapore, giving free rides to the brave and selected few.
nuTonomy said in a statement Singapore, an island state with no space to build more roads, is considered an ideal testing ground because it has great infrastructure and drivers who obey traffic rules. nuTonomy will soon by joined in Singapore by auto supplier Delphi Corporation, which will also launch its autonomous vehicle software in Las Vegas next year.
Uber has similar plans in Pittsburgh, but nuTonomy, a four-year-old startup with 50 staff members in the U.S. and Singapore, can lay claim to beating Uber’s self-driving taxi tests by almost a month. Uber’s tests are, however, expected to be wider than the six nuTonomy robot-taxis, which only operate in the “one-north” business and residential district, and only for invited passengers going to specific locations.
In other cities, meanwhile, three small robot buses, each able to carry 12 passengers, are being tested.
The ultimate goal, said nuTonomy in a media statement, is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018, which will help sharply cut the number of cars on Singapore’s congested roads. Doug Parker, nuTonomy’s chief operating officer, said autonomous taxis could ultimately reduce the number of cars on Singapore’s roads from 900 000 to 300 000.
Olivia Seow (25), who does work in startup partnerships in one-north and is one of the riders nuTonomy selected, took a test ride of just less than a mile on Monday. She acknowledged she was nervous when she got into the car, and then surprised as she watched the steering wheel turn by itself.
Seow told Associated Press: “It felt like there was a ghost or something.”
But she quickly grew more comfortable. “The ride was smooth and controlled,” she said, and she was relieved to see that the car recognised even small obstacles like birds and motorcycles parked in the distance. “I couldn’t see them with my human eye, but the car could, so I knew that I could trust the car,” she added.
Seow said she is excited because the technology could free up her time during commutes or help her father by driving him around as he grows older.
An Associated Press reporter also took a ride last Wednesday and 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.
Look ma, no han… no driver! The first driverless taxis are on test in Singapore.