nuTonomy beats Uber in the race to launch the world’s first public trial of self-driving taxis


The world’s first public trial of a self-driving car taxi service has started in Singapore’s One-North business district, with participants taking free rides in the electric vehicles, summoned by the system’s ride-hailing smartphone application.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) spin-off nuTonomy, a leading developer of state-of-the art software for self-driving cars, has launched the first-ever public trial of a ‘robo-taxi’ service. The trial, which will continue on an ongoing basis, is being held within the city-state’s One-North business district, where nuTonomy has been conducting daily autonomous vehicle (AV) testing since April.

Select Singapore residents will be invited to use nuTonomy’s ride-hailing smartphone app to book a no-cost ride in one of the company’s self-driving cars that employ sophisticated software, which has been integrated with high-performance sensing and computing components. The rides will be provided in a Renault Zoe or Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicle that nuTonomy has specially configured for autonomous driving. An engineer from the company will ride in the vehicle to observe system performance and assume control if needed to ensure passenger comfort and safety.

Throughout the trial, nuTonomy will collect and evaluate valuable data related to software system performance, vehicle routing efficiency, the vehicle booking process, and the overall passenger experience. This data will enable the company to refine its software in preparation for the launch of a widely-available commercial autonomous-taxi service in Singapore in 2018. Earlier this month, nuTonomy was selected by the country’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) as an R&D partner, to support the development of a commercial AV service in Singapore. This new trial represents the first, rapid result of the partnership. nuTonomy is the first, and to date only, private enterprise approved by the Singapore government to test AVs on its public roads.

In May of this year, nuTonomy completed a US$16m Series A funding round led by Highland Capital Partners that included participation from Fontinalis Partners, Signal Ventures, Samsung Ventures, and EDBI, the dedicated corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board. In addition to Singapore, the company is operating self-driving cars in Michigan in the USA, and in the UK, where it tests software in partnership with major automotive manufacturers, such as Jaguar Land Rover.

“Our first-in-the-world public trial is a direct reflection of the level of maturity that we have achieved with our AV software system,” noted Karl Iagnemma, CEO and co-founder of nuTonomy.

“The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting, and this feedback will give us a unique advantage as we work toward deployment of a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International (TTi) magazine and its Traffic Technology Today website since May 2014. During his time at the title, he has interviewed some of the top transportation chiefs at public agencies around the world as well as CEOs of leading multinationals and ground-breaking start-ups. Tom's earlier career saw him working on some the UK's leading consumer magazine titles. He has a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).