Singapore has launched road tests of the world’s first self-driving taxis, just hours ahead of ride-hailing giant Uber Technologies.
The trials underlines the intensity of the global race to develop autonomous driving vehicles, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The field has been traditionally dominated by US tech giants like Uber and Alphabet Inc.’s Google.
Singapore’s nuTonomy, founded by two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Thursday it began testing a free taxi-hailing service in a small business district in Singapore called one-north, a campus-like space dominated by tech firms and biotechnology companies.
Other tech companies including Chinese internet giant Baidu Inc. have been testing self-driving cars on the roads for years but this is the first time the vehicles have been open to public use.
The trial was given the blessing of the Singapore government, which has long sought to turn the city-state into a hub for disruptive technology through generous financial-assistance programs and research partnerships with firms like nuTonomy.
“Quite frankly I think Uber is the Goliath and we need to show that our technology is working and getting to a level of maturity that is viable for the marketplace,” Doug Parker, chief operating officer of nuTonomy, said in an interview Thursday.
“We’re in a technology race here and I think there are going to be a handful of winners.”
NuTonomy’s test vehicles, a Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car, will have a computer engineer and backup human driver during the trial phase in case anything goes wrong, and can be hailed by select members of the public using a smartphone app, the company said.
NuTonomy said it would test its vehicles on a six-kilometer route.
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