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Self-Driving Taxi Passes Its First Obstacle Test in Singapore

NuTomy wants to put driverless cabs on the road in Singapore.

Image: nuTonomy

Startup NuTonomy wants to make it possible for users to hail driverless cars by phone, and it's starting in Singapore.

The MIT startup's driverless taxi passed its first driving test in Singapore last week, which consisted of navigating the vehicle autonomously through an obstacle course. The company will now continue testing cars in a business district of Singapore and plans to debut thousands of driverless taxis in the city over the next few years.


The successful testing last week comes after the company raised $3.6 million in seed funding earlier this year. Emilio Frazzoli, nuTonomy co-founder and chief technology officer and MIT professor, said Singapore is particularly good city to test the technology due to its traffic congestion and investment in self driving cars.

NuTonomy implements fleet management technology based on algorithms the US military uses for drone coordination, which the company said would help to reduce traffic and carbon emissions by making cars more efficient. Fazzoli and his colleagues published a study in Road Vehicle Automation in 2014 estimating 300,000 driverless taxis could replace the current number of taxis 780,000 while keeping wait time under 15 minutes.

"That's a 60 percent reduction in the number of vehicles operating in Singapore," Frazzoli told MIT News's Robohub. "This was a big sign of impact for [the Singaporean] government. At first we were asking them to let us test cars there—then they were asking us to come test."

The NuTonomy algorithms include a "formal logic" function that gives cars flexibility when driving to break relatively unimportant "rules of the road." This lets cars use complex judgement to, say, pass obstructions in the street like double-parked cars without running into oncoming traffic.

As the company raised funding, it has also developed similar contract projects for car companies, including an autonomous parking feature for Jaguar Land Rover. NuTonomy is one of many companies working on driverless cars; developing the technology has been a priority for Tesla, Uber, and Apple as well