Self-Driving Taxis Hit the Streets of Singapore

August 25, 2016, 8:09 AM UTC
NuTonomy has launched the first public self-driving taxi service in Singapore.
Courtesy of nuTonomy

NuTonomy might not have the name recognition of Google, Ford, General Motors, or Uber. But at only three years old, the autonomous vehicle software startup and MIT spinoff has managed to beat them all to market.

The software startup launched a self-driving taxi service in Singapore on Thursday that the public—not just test engineers—can use. The company says it’s the first-ever public trial of a self-driving taxi service.

Even if just a trial, the development represents a stunning milestone considering the capital and resources that other, much larger companies have dedicated to the development and eventual commercial deployment of a self-driving taxi service. Google (GOOG), which plans to commercialize self-driving vehicles by 2020, has been working on the project since 2009.

See also: Uber Is Reportedly About to Pull Out of Macau

A number of automakers have partnered with or acquired startups in pursuit of the same goal. Earlier this month, Volvo Car Group agreed to a $300 million alliance with Uber to develop self-driving cars. Ford (F) also announced its intention to make self-driving cars for commercial ride-sharing or on-demand taxi services by 2021, a target the automaker says it will reach by expanding its Silicon Valley research lab, as well as investing in or buying autonomous vehicle technology startups. Meanwhile, GM snapped up Cruise Automation for more than $1 billion, and sank $500 million into ride-hailing service Lyft as part of its plan to deploy self-driving taxis.

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Under nuTonomy’s public trial, select Singapore residents will be invited to use a mobile app to hail a self-driving car. The public trial will be held within Singapore’s one-north business district, the same area where the startup has been conducting tests using modified Mitsubishi iMiev and Renault Zoe vehicles since April.

Here’s a video that illustrates how the service will work.


An engineer from nuTonomy will ride in the vehicle to observe system performance and assume control if needed, the company says. The startup will collect data during the public trial to refine the software and improve vehicle routing efficiency, the booking process, and passenger experience ahead of a wider commercial launch that is expected to begin in 2018.

NuTonomy has played it smart in its pursuit of self-driving cars, by diversifying its business and picking Singapore for its first public experiment. While the company’s primary mission is to deploy a self-driving taxi fleet service, it also works with major automakers and suppliers to help these companies develop and build autonomous features for their cars. NuTonomy is testing self-driving car technology with automotive partners in the U.K. and in Ann Arbor, Mich.

For more on self-driving cars and the auto industry, watch Fortune’s video:

NuTonomy co-founder and CEO Karl Iagnemma said in a previous interview with Fortune that Singapore is an ideal market for autonomous vehicles. The government there has been an enthusiastic supporter, helping develop regulations that encourage companies to test and deploy the technology. The country also has good weather and traffic flow, modern infrastructure, and a law-abiding citizenry, Iagnemma said at the time.

The startup’s progress has helped garner attention and capital from investors. Ford executive chairman Bill Ford’s venture capital firm was an early backer of the startup, and in January, nuTonomy announced that it had raised $3.6 million in a seed funding round. Just five months later, the company raised another $16 million in a Series A funding round, which included Highland Capital Partners, Fontinalis Partners—the VC firm co-founded by Bill Ford—Signal Ventures, EDBI, the dedicated corporate investment arm of the Singapore Economic Development Board, and Samsung Ventures.

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