Singapore’s driverless car trial expands to local ‘Uber’ service

American autonomous technology start-up nuTonomy, which is currently trialling driverless cars in Singapore, has partnered with south-east Asia’s Uber counterpart Grab to gather more data in rides with passengers.

Users of the Grab app can now book driverless cars to travel within Singapore’s western district and some adjacent neighbourhoods.

During the trial, a safety driver as well as a support engineer will be present in each car. In case the passenger wants to travel outside the experimental area, the safety driver will take over to finish the task.

“Partnering with Grab to expand our public trial in Singapore will yield valuable feedback and consumer insights as nuTonomy readies our on-demand self-driving car service for commercial launch in 2018,” said Karl Iagnemma, the firm's CEO and co-founder.

Users who wish to take part in the self-driving trial need to pre-register online. They won’t be charged for using the service.

NuTonomy said the trial, which is scheduled to last two months but might be extended if successful, is the first of its kind in the world. However, Uber launched a similar experiment in Pittsburgh, USA, earlier this month and announced a $300m alliance with Volvo Car Group to develop self-driving cars.

NuTonomy launched its self-driving taxi trial in Singapore in August, using two regulator-approved cars. By the end of this year, the firm hopes to expand its fleet to 12 cars and aims to have as many as 100 vehicles on Singapore’s roads by 2018.

Grab said driverless technology could help fill some gaps in the transportation market. Reportedly, human drivers are inclined to refuse passenger booking requests from or to more remote locations.

"Our view of self-driving vehicles is it's a supplementary solution to some of the issues that we are unable to solve with existing supply," said Lim Kell Jay, head of Grab Singapore.

Countries around the world are encouraging the development of autonomous technologies, and Singapore, with its limited land and workforce, is hoping driverless vehicles will encourage its residents to use more shared vehicles and public transport.

The two firms said they currently don’t have plans to expand outside Singapore but didn’t rule out such a possibility in future.

News of the one-year partnership comes in the same week that Grab announced raising $750m in a funding round that gives it more ammunition to take on Uber in south-east Asia.

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