The development of driverless vehicles has been a topic of interest for a while now and it looks like someone finally pulled the trigger. This past August, Singapore became the first country to adopt on-demand driverless transportation. This trial featured a driverless taxi that offers services to a select group of people. With the information learned from this trial, a commercial driverless taxi service will undoubtedly be introduced in the near future. In a few years, commuting will have a new face thanks to cutting-edge technology.
Who developed it?
The driverless taxi service was developed by nuTonomy, a start-up that was founded by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers who are now based in Singapore. It is headed by two experts in robotics, whose work has contributed to robotic surgery, vehicle safety systems, and Mars surface exploration. The developers have been the first to offer public road trials for driverless taxis. This start-up even beat out transportation giant Uber, who didn’t offer trials until months later.
Singapore was selected for the trial because of the city’s well-maintained roads, high demand for taxi services, and clear government regulations that pertain to autonomous vehicle testing. While these are optimal conditions for testing, the trial area was limited to a 6km stretch of road, and the trial was suspended during high-traffic hours. With some conditions, Singapore’s Land Transport Authority signed an agreement to work with nuTonomy to test the driverless taxi services.
How does the driverless taxi service work?
Riders can download a smartphone application designed by nuTonomy. This application will transmit the rider’s location to the taxi’s navigation system, which will then direct the vehicle to the pickup location. The taxi then transports the passenger to their destination, which is also entered into the Smartphone application. During the trial, the service was extended to just 10 individuals in order to evaluate the trip booking process, software system performance, vehicle routing efficiency, and passenger experience.
How much does the service cost?
During nuTonomy’s trials, all driving services are complimentary in exchange for feedback on the user’s experience. While there has not yet been an advertised service cost, the prices are sure to be lower than Uber. Uber drivers’ compensation totals 80% of the total cost of the trip, which will be eliminated with an autonomous system. While the new technology will be factored into the cost, nuTonomy will surely offer pricing that will compete with that of other big name competitors.
What happens after the trials?
At the time of the initial trial, there was just one driverless vehicle available, with four more being prepared for autonomous operation. The start-up plans to extend the trials to more individuals in Singapore in order to collect data for a more comprehensive evaluation of the service. If the trials are successful and potential problems are resolved, nuTonomy will be able to offer driverless taxis in Singapore in 2018. By the time this happens, the autonomous taxi fleet will have expanded to include approximately 75 vehicles.