Singapore is the first country to launch self-driving taxis.
They beat out Uber Technologies by a few days with their public road tests for technology which is set to revolutionize the transportation industry.
This trial, even though it was a small one, shows how intense the race for developing autonomous vehicles is. The field has been dominated by giants from the US like Google and Uber till now.
NuTonomy, a Singapore company, founded by a couple of researchers from MIT began testing the free taxi-hailing service in a small district in Singapore known as one-north. This area is dominated by tech and biotech firms. Some other technology companies including Baidu have also been testing self-driving vehicles for a while now. But this is only the first time that these vehicles are going to be allowed for public use.
The trial was authorized by the Singapore government which has been trying to turn the country into a hub for such technology through research partnerships and financial assistance programs with companies like nuTonomy.
Their test vehicles, a Mitsubishi i-MiEV and Renault Zoe, have a backup driver and a computer engineer inside the car during the testing phase in case something goes wrong. They can be hailed through a smartphone app.
NuTonomy has to achieve a number of milestones before they can expand trials to other parts of the city. There is no information on what these milestones are, but the next stage looks like it will involve expanding to a neighborhood close to one-north.
While the tightly controlled network of roads in Singapore make it a good place to start, nuTonomy is way behind Google, Tesla, or Uber in terms of publicity and funding. Uber said they were going to begin trials in Pittsburgh before the end of this month and plan to put as much as 100 vehicles on the streets in the next few months.
Pittsburgh is much bigger than this district in Singapore and will let Uber collect additional data in order to advance their technology faster. They already have more than 1.5 million drivers as part of their taxi network.