Robot drivers have taken to the streets in Singapore, as nuTonomy switched on the world’s first self-driving taxi service on Thursday. Select users will be able to hail a ride through a smartphone app during the public beta test, which nuTonomy hopes will provide data to improve the service and roll it out across Singapore in 2018.
The taxis aren’t driving entirely unaided. An engineer will sit in the driver’s seat and take over if something goes wrong. nuTonomy has been testing out its cars in Singapore since April, while also partnering with car manufacturers in the UK and U.S. to test the company’s self-driving software in a range of vehicles. The limited taxi service uses both the Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV.
“NuTonomy’s first-in-the-world public trial is a direct reflection of the level of maturity that we have achieved with our AV [autonomous vehicle] software system,” said nuTonomy CEO and co-founder, Karl Iagnemma, in a statement. “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 toward deployment of a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018.”
It’s no secret that Uber has plans to unveil its own self-driving taxi fleet. The ridesharing giant announced last week it plans to start picking up passengers in Pittsburgh this month, in a fleet of specially-fitted Volvo XC90s. Tesla, on the other hand, is setting its sights to autonomous buses. As the future of self-driving public transport is slowly fleshed out, it’s still unclear what the end result will be, but nuTonomy’s test run may be a glimpse of what we can expect.