Self-driving taxis pick passengers in Singapore

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nuTonomy plans to launch a widely-available commercial robo-taxi service in Singapore by 2018.

Amidst the hype surrounding the future of autonomous driving, it wasn’t Google or Uber that rolled out the first self-driving taxi. Nor was it BMW, Audi or Volvo.

It was nuTonomy, a software start-up and MIT spinoff, that has launched the first-ever public trial of a robo-taxi service in Singapore's one-north business district, where the company has also been conducting a daily autonomous vehicle testing since April.

The 50-person company, which also has an office in Massachusetts, started inviting select Singapore residents to use nuTonomy's ride-hailing smartphone app to book a free ride in the self-driving taxis. There are two vehicles available—a Renault Zoe and a Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicle, which nuTonomy has configured for autonomous driving. A nuTonomy engineer will accompany the passengers during the ride to ensure passenger comfort and safety as well as observe system performance.

And this is just the first salvo. nuTonomy plans to evaluate the collated data related to software system performance, vehicle routing efficiency, the vehicle booking process, and the overall passenger experience. The company said the data will enable nuTonomy to refine its software in preparation for the launch of a widely-available commercial robo-taxi service in Singapore in 2018.

Several weeks ago, the company was selected by the Singapore Land Transport Authority (LTA) for a partnership for the development of a commercial autonomous vehicle service in Singapore. Auto supplier Delphi also received the green light to test autonomous vehicles next year.

"The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting, and this feedback will give nuTonomy a unique advantage as we work towards deployment of a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018," said nuTonomy CEO and co-founder Karl Iagnemma.

In May of this year, nuTonomy completed a ₹107.29 crore ($16 million) Series A funding led by Highland Capital Partners that included participation from Fontinalis Partners, Signal Ventures, Samsung Ventures, and EDBI, the dedicated corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board.

Aside from Singapore, nuTonomy is also operating self-driving cars in Michigan and the United Kingdom, where it tests software in partnership with major automotive manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover.

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