The world’s first driverless taxis just launched today in Singapore, beating Uber to the road by a matter of weeks. According to Phys.org, the autonomous vehicle software startup nuTonomy will offer certain members of the public a free ride, which they can order using their smartphones. While Uber’s first self-driving cars are set to launch this month in Pittsburgh, nuTonomy is the first company to actually roll out its self-driving fleet in a move designed to reduce congestion on the city streets.
For now, nuTonomy officials told Phys.org they are starting small with a fleet of six cars on the road. By the end of the year, that number should double, and by 2018, the company hopes to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore. They hope their model will be adopted in cities around the world.
“For now, the taxis only will run in a 2.5-square-mile business and residential district called “one-north,” and pick-ups and drop-offs will be limited to specified locations, according to Phys.org. “And riders must have an invitation from nuTonomy to use the service. The company says dozens have signed up for the launch, and it plans to expand that list to thousands of people within a few months.”
The cars will not be completely driverless for now. Using modified Renault Zie and Mitsubishi 1-MiEV electric vehicles, nuTonomy will dispatch two people with each taxi – a driver who can take over the wheel if necessary, and a researcher who will monitor the car’s various computers from the back seat. “Each car is fitted with six sets of Lidar—a detection system that uses lasers to operate like radar—including one that constantly spins on the roof. There are also two cameras on the dashboard to scan for obstacles and detect changes in traffic lights,” writes Phys.org.
Doug Parker, nuTonomy’s chief operating officer, said that eventually, driverless taxis could shrink the number of cars on Singapore’s 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.”