The World's First Driverless Taxi Trial


This article was written David Bailey, Professor at Aston Business School, and first appeared in The Birmingham Post on 30 August 2016.

Whilst on secondment for a month in Singapore, Professor David Bailey spotted a driverless taxi being trialled in a small area of the city.

Out and about on secondment for a month in Singapore, I've spotted a driverless taxi being trialled in a small area of the city. It's the world's first driverless taxi. At the moment it's strictly limited in where it can go and who can use it.

At present the driverless taxis only run in the 'One North' business and residential district, with pick-ups and drop-offs limited to specified points and invited passengers. The firm running the taxis, nuTonomy, says that dozens have signed up for the launch. I haven't been lucky enough to get my hands on an invite so have only watched one of the cars in action so far.

It's an interesting glimpse of the future, and the sort of thing that would have appeared on 'Tomorrow's World' years ago (or BBC News' Click programme today).

Driverless cars are being tested in many places - by Google and Volvo for example, and by various Innovate UK supported consortia in the UK which include a range of Midlands' firms including JLR, MIRA, RDM and Westfield - but the Singapore trial is a world first for a driverless taxi service.

Here in Singapore, those few members of the public invited to take part can hail a (currently) free ride on the driverless taxi using their smartphones.

It's something of a scoop both for the firm nuTonomy - which is a minnow competing with big industry players like Volvo or tech firms like Google and Apple - and the Singapore government.

The latter sees connected and autonomous vehicle technology as a key part of its latest industrial policy, looking for new tech firms to stimulate economic growth and at the same time helping to develop the technology that could ease congestion in a small, densely populated island.

The Singapore trial is starting small, with six cars on the roads (modified Renault Zoes and Mitsubishi i-MiEVs), growing to twelve by the end of this year.

The pilot is being used to gather data on nuTonomy's driverless software, routing efficiency and the consumer booking process, in preparation for launching a driverless taxi fleet on Singapore's roads by 2018.

Singapore is seen as a good test bed given its climate (although how current batteries will cope with the need for air-con is a question arising...

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