nuTonomy, Grab, Driverless taxis

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Since last year when Google started test-driving their autonomous cars in the city of Austin, I was of the firm belief that Google were far ahead of the competition when it comes to autonomous cars.

nuTonomy, Grab, Driverless taxis
A nuTonomy driverless cab

But recent events have shown that Google just made the loudest noise and garnered the most publicity.

The news coming out of Singapore Is really heart-warming as far as self-driving cars are concerned. It is the story of two entities coming together to launch the world’s first driverless car taxi service.

The first is nuTonomy. It was founded in 2013 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a start-up technology company with the primary aim of making software for self-driving cars. The mission statement of NuTonomy is to make fully autonomous cars in the next 3 years.

nuTonomy, Grab, Driverless taxis
Grab app

The second company is Grab. A simple way to describe Grab is call it the Uber of South East Asia. It’s services mirrors exactly that of Uber and is mainly based in Malaysia, Singapore, Philippines, Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia.

These are the two companies partnering together to give Singaporeans a fully fledged autonomous taxi cabs.

For now the tests would involve only six cars  produced by Renault and Mitsubishi. Both car models (Renault Zone and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs) have being modified by NuTonomy to be suitable for this test.

Since only six cars are participating in this test, the area covered by the test is restricted to just 6.4km2.

Last week, Uber announced the start of trials for self-driving cars in Pittsburg before the end of this month. This news, however, has taken the bragging rights away from Uber as the first to start driverless cab services, albeit, test drives.

nuTonomy, Grab, Driverless taxis

Though both Uber and nuTonomy are thousand of miles apart, their test drives have some striking similarities. For instance, in both cases the lucky passengers would enjoy the ride to their destinations free of charge.

Also, each vehicle would be accompanies by two employees of the respective companies: an engineer to take over and manually control the car if it became necessary and a researcher to gauge the performance of the car and taking notes.

The major difference between the two the manner the cabs are assigned to passengers. Uber chosed to do it simply by dispatching the cars randomly. nuTonomy and Grab on the other hand require intending passengers to sign up to the program before they can hail a cab.

The fist phase of the trial would be for two months. And depending on feedbacks, especially  from the passengers and engineers in the cabs, the time and scope of the trial might be extended in the second phase.

Here is how Grab announced the news in a press statement:

nuTonomy, the leading developer of state-of-the-art software for self-driving cars, and Grab, Southeast Asia’s leading ride-hailing app, today announced a partnership to expand nuTonomy’s ongoing public trial of self-driving cars in Singapore, the first such public trial anywhere in the world. The trial will give select Grab users a chance to experience the full end-to-end experience of e-hailing and riding in a nuTonomy self-driving vehicle (SDV).

Combining nuTonomy’s SDV software and technology system with Grab’s proven fleet routing technology and mapping in its app will enable both companies to study the end-to-end user experience of on-demand hailing of SDVs. In particular, the trial will be a valuable opportunity to conduct user experience research around how passengers book and interact with SDVs. The results will be used to enhance Grab’s routing technology and mapping for SDVs, as well as improve the comfort, performance, and safety of nuTonomy’s SDVs.”

The world would be watching closely to see how this test turns out. It could be the defining moment of the future of driverless cars. Any small mishap could set the timetable for the introduction of driverless cars back by several years.


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