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World's first self-driving taxis hit Singapore

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The world’s first self-driving taxis have begun picking up passengers in Singapore.

Select members of the public began hailing free rides this week using an app created by autonomous vehicle startup nuTonomy.

The company beat Uber to the chase, with Uber intending to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh in a few weeks’ time.

Currently, the service only has six cars, however it intends to double this number by the end of the year. According to nuTonomy, the ultimate goal is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018, which the company believes will help to significantly reduce the number of cars on Singapore’s congested roads. The company also believes that this model could be adopted in cities around the world.

As the service is still in the testing phase, the taxis are only running in a business and residential district called “one-north”, with pick-ups and drop-offs limited to certain locations. Taxi users are also limited to a select few who have been invited by nuTonomy to use the service. The company intends to expand this list to thousands of people within the next few months.

The vehicles used are modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electrics with a driver in the front who is prepared to take over at any time, and a researcher in the back who monitors the car’s computers. Each car is fitted with six sets of Lidar, as well as two cameras on the dashboard to scan for obstacles and detect changes in traffic lights.

nuTonomy’s chief operating officer Doug Parker, said autonomous taxis could reduce the number of cars on Singapore’s roads from 900,000 to 300,000.

“When you are able to take that many cars off the road, it creates a lot of possibilities. You can create smaller roads [and] you can create much smaller car parks,” said Parker.

“I think it will change how people interact with the city going forward.”

An Associated Press reporter using the service on Wednesday observed that the safety driver had to brake once, when a car was obstructing the taxi’s lane and another vehicle, which appeared to be parked, suddenly moved into the oncoming lane.

nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma said the company is confident that its software can make good decisions, adding that he hopes the company’s leadership in autonomous driving will lead to partnerships with automakers, tech companies, logistics companies and more.

“What we’re finding is the number of interested parties is really overwhelming,” he said.

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