Driverless cabs: A fare bit of competition lies ahead
As competition heats up, nuTonomy are first to deploy driverless taxis on public roads.
After much hype, the day has finally come. There are driverless taxis on the roads. But despite months of testing in Pittsburgh and a recent announcement of imminent deployment, it is not ride-hailing giant Uber who can claim the first real customers. That honor goes to nuTonomy – a small MIT spin-out. And it’s not in Pittsburgh; it’s not even in the US.
A controlled experiment
Nearly 10,000 miles away in Singapore, six driverless cabs are roaming the streets of the tech-centric “One-North” Business Park in Singapore. They are the first self-driving vehicles on public roads to offer lifts to customers. Riders use the nuTonomy app to summon the electric cabs - either a Mitsubishi i-Miev or a Renault Zoe – which then drops them off at their location. At this stage, it is essentially a controlled experiment: there are select riders who need invitations to be able to use the service; the pick-ups and drop-offs are limited to certain points in the 2.5-square-mile site and there is a data engineer and stand-by driver in the car sharing your ride. Not to mention, the fare is free! But this is only the beginning. nuTonomy plan to double the fleet in the coming months and have a fully operating service in Singapore by 2018. But there is much to be learned from this phase first, as nuTonomy’s CEO, Karl Iagnemma, told The Guardian:
“The pilot is going to allow us to collect technical data, but equally importantly, it’s going to allow us to find out if people enjoy riding in driverless cars. When people get into the car, some will love it, some will be indifferent and some won’t like it. But how many won’t like it - 3% of the ridership, or 30%? We want to know that number. And Uber wants to know that number, too.”
Competition for cabs
It is understandable that he has one eye on Uber, since it was the USD 60 Billion multinational who have made all the noise recently. Both companies want to access the data that can inform them as to how to best to tap into this driverless market. nuTonomy have now taken the first step. Surely this will be the impetus for other players, not just Uber, to enter the race. Indeed it doesn’t stop at putting cars on the road. It is about providing a service at the end of the day; and with that, comes challenges you may not even have thought of – like how you ensure passengers behave when in the cabs.
Finally, it is no coincidence that Singapore is the location nuTonomy chose. After all, having been founded in 2013 by ex-MIT engineers, they copped 16 Million USD in funding in May past, from Venture capitalists and the Singapore government. The willingness of Singapore to promote automated driving and future mobility programs should come as no surprise – as it seeks to make best use of its limited space and do away with many of the 900,000 cars currently on its roads. Mr Pang Kin Keong, the island nation’s Permanent Secretary for Transport recently shared this future vision with 2025AD.
So the next time you’re in a taxi, take a second to appreciate the small talk with the driver – because now that the race has started, those days could be numbered!