Spot this taxi’s driver

Sin­ga­pore al­lows tests of world’s first driver­less taxis to ease con­ges­tion

The Witness - Wheels - - MOTORING - AL­WYN VILJOEN

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.

PHOTO: NUTON­OMY

Look ma, no han… no driver! The first driver­less taxis are on test in Sin­ga­pore.

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