First self-driving taxis hit the road in Singapore

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.

…Mr. Parker said the Singapore government had laid out a series of milestones for nuTonomy to achieve before it is allowed to extend its trials to other areas of the city. He declined to provide details on those milestones, but said the next stage would be to expand the service to a neighborhood adjacent to one-north.

Here is the WSJ piece, here are other articles.  I recall predicting about a year and a half ago that Singapore would be the first to do this.  A Singaporean countered me, and interjected they were very worried that their plans were falling behind.  I said: “That is exactly my point.  You are worried that you are falling behind.  Congratulations.”

Worry.  Singapore.  Think about it.


Each self driving car will include a backup driver and a computer engineer. Maybe someday self driving taxis will only use a backup driver. We can only dream.

The jobs for the future, for you and your children. Backup driver to self-driving car. I bet you each backup driver is probably responsible for a half-dozen cars, maybe even a couple of dozen, and if there's a problem a warning sound or light will notify the backup driver. Kind of like a CCTV security guard monitor.

Yes I have for a long time thought that could be a possibility, especially early. The car can drive itself in the great majority of the time.

a long journey starts with the first step. there are no shortcuts by reducing regulation as sometimes Alex imply. achieving difficult objectives takes time, the only advice is to start sooner.

I wonder if the people who point out they have backup systems in place think they are being clever. It's like pooh-poohing the test firing of a rocket because it was bolted to the ground, hurr hurr hurr.

-It was people.
-The backup system was people.
-You tell everybody. Listen to me, Hatcher. You've gotta tell them! The backup system is people!

@weber: "I wonder if the people who point out they have backup systems in place think they are being clever."

No. They correctly think they are just being honest in pointing out a critical detail in all these driverless-car stories. A critical detail never included in the many glitzy headlines about driverless vehicles... and a critical detail usually buried deep in the story, if mentioned at all.

The majority of readers seeing a media story about driverless taxis in Singapore assume that there are taxis without drivers now in Singapore... which is exactly the impression intended by the story producers/promoters, though totally false.

If a guy sits in the car and watches the car drive for ten years and doesn't do anything, did the car have a driver?

Great news for humanity. A little sad for Google.

Yes, we've passed peak Google. Time to sell your shares.

I can imagine what's going to happen in 10 years (if not less) from now if this technology is proved safe and is deployed in big cities worldwide... taxi drivers and Uber drivers united against self-driving taxis... #AverageIsOver

Like all public-private partnerships, self driving cars will be a bottomless pit for the public and an bonanza for the private. But self driving cars is strictly a private venture, isn't it? If you believe that, you aren't paying attention - to the laws of physics. Self driving cars at 25 mph can be a private venture (although, like all cars, they will depend on public roads built with public funds), but not self driving cars at 60 mph or 70 mph. Self driving cars racing about public streets and roads at 70 mph while sharing the streets and roads with cars driven by people would be mayhem. What self driving cars traveling at 70 mph will need is their own right of way. And who, pray tell, will pay for that? Good God, another public-private partnership! If that's the case, why would Cowen support self driving cars? Because the alternative, public transit, is worse (in his mind).

Most people don't know that in the early days of the automobile, roads were private. The car companies (and the gas companies) realized that roads are an expense not a source of profits, and soon enough the public-private partnership for cars was born. My advice to my young nephew is not to get involved with a woman who is into either decorating or horses, and if he meets a woman involved in both, run as fast as he can. Public-private partnerships are like that.

"My advice to my young nephew is not to get involved with a woman who is into either decorating or horses, and if he meets a woman involved in both, run as fast as he can."

This is really good advice.

Suppose she already has more money than your nephew ever will. The advice is then get into decorating and horses.

The problems are on high speed local roads. I would guess that autonomous driving on the interstates would be easier than most other situations. So autonomous under 30MPH and on the interstate. That would be great by me.

The "problem" for autonomous driving is that the diverse, dynamic road environment faced by everyday human drivers... is too complicated for current vehicle computer/sensor technology to reliably handle.

So the interim solution is to restrict driverless vehicles to less complicated road environments.

Freeways & limited-access highways are less complicated driving environments. Also, restricted driving to small areas of local-streets & low speed traffic is a more benign environment.

That's why you see so much news lately about driverless buses and taxi cabs (rather than normal cars)... autonomous buses/taxis are restricted to very small local areas that are well mapped, monitored and analysed. Those Singapore taxi cabs only operate in a small 2.5 sq mile area; the Finnish driverless buses are limited to a few short and precise bus routes. Low speeds under 20mph give the onboard computers more time to react to the realtime environment. Human drivers are much more adaptable, but less consistent.

And for those not that familiar with Singapore, it has one of the largest sovereign funds in the world, so a public-private partnership for self driving cars in Singapore would not be a surprise and might be reason for this new project in Singapore.

Let's make up shit! I'm certain my very precise prediction of the future of self-driving technology will be the correct one!

Ah yes, another driverless(*) vehicle.

>...will have a computer engineer and backup human driver...

(*) Driver required.

This is like the driverless cars of various metro trains announced in the 80s?. Are any really driverless today?

And train accidents keep happening even after Congress mandated positive train control which is like Tesla Autopilot or the BMW et al collision avoidance systems.

Yes, they are driverless. They still have a driver mandated by the union buy they don't do much.

TC: " I recall predicting about a year and a half ago that Singapore would be the first to do this."

Yes, and many who were following the progress of driverless cars and gave talks on it in the 2000s said the same thing years ago.

Cowen and Krugman have always been way behind the curve - but so have 95% of all economists. Next thing Tyler and Paul will announce is a prediction that there will be health pills out by 2020. Ya don't say....

The autonomous car is the jet-pack du jour. It was discussed for years by a small number of dreamers and prototypes have flown but it will never be common anywhere. Maybe an autonomous jet pack is what we really need, though. Just skip the whole automobile thing and go with the no-pilot jet pack. I'll watch for awhile first.

Sorry, when were jet packs deployed on a wide scale in Singapore and Finland?

The autonomous cars in Singapore will be used in an area small enough that automobile transportation isn't even necessary, bicycles would work fine. Or jet packs.

From Asia Times:

The service will start small--six cars now, growing to a dozen by the end of the year. The ultimate goal, say nuTonomy officials, is to have a fully self-driving taxi fleet in Singapore by 2018, which will help sharply cut the number of cars on Singapore's congested roads. Eventually, the model could be adopted in cities around the world, nuTonomy says.

For now, the taxis only will run in a 2.5-square-mile business and residential district called "one-north," and pick-ups and drop-offs will be limited to specified locations. And riders must have an invitation from nuTonomy to use the service.

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