Singapore: World's first driverless taxi starts limited public trial

nuTonomy, a US-based tech startup that developed the softwares for these self-driving taxis.

The world's first driverless taxis started its operation on Thursday in Singapore in a limited public trial, giving a tough competition to giants like Uber in the race to roll out the revolutionary technology.

The "robo-taxi service" is being experimented at a small research campus far away from the noisy Asian business hub.

nuTonomy, a US-based tech startup, that developed the software used in the vehicles, said the data from the test will feed into the roll-out of driverless taxis across the city-state in 2018.

"The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting," nuTonomy chief executive and co-founder Karl Lagnemma told AFP.

"This feedback will give nuTonomy a unique advantage as we work toward deployment of a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018," he added.

The six taxis including Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicles will start operating in a 2.5 square mile (4.0 square kilometre) area. The pick-up and drop-off points will be set in the vehicle. Commuters will have to use the company's smartphone app to book their trips.

The company said that although the high-tech cars will drive themselves but a nuTonomy engineer will be there on each trip. The engineer will observe how the machine performs, and would be ready to take over in case of any problem.

Last week, Uber, the ride-sharing giant declared that it would be launching driverless cars in the US city of Pittsburgh by the end of August. The company said it has also established a US$300mil (RM1.20mil) venture with Chinese-owned, Swedish-based Volvo to develop self-driving cars for sale by 2021.

Meanwhile, in the month of May, Google parent Alphabet also announced that it is partnering with Fiat Chrysler in order to expand its fleet of self-driving vehicles. The company hopes the cars to hit the road by end-2016.