Singapore gets first driverless taxis, Dubai to follow
Dubai - Dubai officials have said that 25 percent of traffic in the emirate will be driverless by 2030.
The world's first self-driving taxis hit the streets of Singapore on Thursday, beating technology giant Uber in the race to be the first to put driverless technologies into operation.
In a limited public trial, select members of the public can now use their smartphones to hail free rides on a fleet operated by nuTonomy, an autonomous vehicle software startup.
With its Singapore launch, nuTonomy has beaten out ride-hailing service Uber, which will begin offering driverless rides to passengers in Pittsburgh in a few weeks.
Other cities around the world are looking into adopting driverless vehicles to help ease transportation woes. Dubai officials, for example, have said that 25 percent of traffic in the emirate will be driverless by 2030.
To begin with, nuTonomy is beginning with a small fleet of six cars, which will grow to 12 by the end of the year. By 2018, the company hopes to have a full self-driving fleet operating in Singapore, a model which it hopes will be replicated elsewhere.
Doug Parker, nuTonomy's chief operating officer, noted that autonomous taxis have the potential to reduce the number of cars on Singapore roads from 900,000 to 300,000.
"When you are able to take that many cars off the road, it creates a lot of possibilities. You can create smaller roads, you can create much smaller car parks," Parker said. "I think it will change how people interact with the city going forward."
For the moment, the taxis will only run on a 6.5 square-kilometre business and residential district in Singapore called "one-north", with pick-ups and drop-offs limited to certain locations.
Only riders with invitations can participate.
The cars - modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electrics - have a driver in front who is prepared to take control if need be, as well as a researcher in the back to monitor the car's computers. Each car is fitted with a detection system, as well as two cameras that look out for obstacles.
According to nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma, the trials are open-ended. "I don't expect there to be a time where we say, 'We've learned enough'," Iagnemma said.