nuTonomy, an MIT spin-off technology startup that makes software to build self-driving cars, has beat Uber in the race to introduce self-driving cars to the roads. The company, operating in Singapore, has earned the island nation the title as the first country in the world to implement self-driving taxis for public use. NuTonomy has implanted six cars in Singapore that can autonomously pick up passengers and deliver them to their desired destination, as part of a pilot project.
"We face constraints in land and manpower," Singapore's permanent secretary for transport, Pang Kin Keong, told the Associated Press. "We want to take advantage of self-driving technology to overcome such constraints, and in particular to introduce new mobility concepts which could bring about transformational improvements to public transport in Singapore."
It should be noted however, that the system is still in its testing phase. A testing driver must be present for the duration of an autonomous trip to make sure passengers aren't in danger, until the vehicles are considered to be 100% safe. What's more, the vehicles - Mitsubishi i-Mievs and Renault Zoes - are only capable of covering a 2.5-square-mile (6.5-square-kilometer) region of Singapore known as One-North, according to a report by Science Alert, and there are specific drop-off zones that passengers must abide by.
"The pilot is going to allow us to collect technical data, but equally importantly, it's going to allow us to find out if people enjoy riding driverless cars," nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma told The Guardian. "When people get into the car, some will love it, some will be indifferent, and some won't like it. But how many won't like it - 3 percent of the ridership, or 30 percent? We want to know that number."
nuTonomy hopes to eventually fill out their fleet by 2018, according to reports, adding more drop-off and pick-up areas. An underlying goal is to get cars off of Singapore's crowded and overburdened streets (a familiar problem in most cities around the world). According to nuTonomy's COO Doug Park, fleets of autonomous taxis could reduce the number of cars on the streets of Singapore from 900,000 to 300,000, but he didn't specify exactly how that will pan out.
"When you are able to take that many cars off the road, it creates a lot of possibilities," Park told the AP. You can create smaller roads, and you can create much smaller car parks. I think it will change how people interact with the city going forward."
nuTonomy was launched back in 2013 by Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli, researchers at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), who at the time were working towards developing autonomous vehicles for the Defense Department. The company operates in both the U.S. and Singapore, but its testing of autonomous technology is still yet to be approved for the public in the U.S.
The company is competing against Uber, which announced in the U.S. in August that it would implement driverless taxis in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in the near future. Uber hasn't yet released an official date for it, but it would make sense for Uber to push to implement it sooner than later, given what nuTonomy has achieved in Singapore.