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NuTonomy autonomous taxi pilot gets Singapore green light

NuTonomy, an MIT autonomous vehicle spinoff, announced on Monday a new partnership with Singapore’s Land Transport Authority (LTA) to expand its autonomous taxi service in the city.

We first reported on the pilot program’s existence on April 7, when nuTonomy filed paperwork to expand its “mobility-on-demand” program outside of the one-north business district.

See Also: Baidu looks to mass produce self-driving fleet quickly

The finalized agreement lets nuTonomy enhance its trials and give residents the chance to test the driverless tech. Autonomous cars are ordered similar to the way you book an Uber, minus the driver.

If everything goes well, nuTonomy expects to launch its taxi service in Singapore by 2018. That is quite premature, in our opinion, compared to other firms in the autonomous industry, most of which still cite 2020 as the opening year for autonomous vehicles.

On the other hand, Singapore has shown itself to be one of the major tech hubs because of its strong approach to emerging technologies. That makes nuTonomy’s 2018 goal seem more likely than it would be in London or New York, where regulators are set in their ways.

“nuTonomy is honored to partner with LTA and we applaud the Singaporean government for its forward thinking and planning,” said Karl Iagnemma, CEO and co-founder of nuTonomy. “We are committed to Singapore, as demonstrated by the growing team we have here as well as our autonomous vehicle (AV) testing program in one-north.”

“This innovative collaboration with LTA will accelerate the pace of change we are bringing to the fundamentals of human transportation by enhancing our ability to deploy a fleet of self-driving vehicles to serve the people of Singapore.”

On top of increasing the size of its workforce, nuTonomy is also buying more Mitsubishi i-MiEV cars, which it uses as the test car for its autonomous vehicle system. It also wants to expand its data collection initiatives, to better understand urban environments pre-launch.

The agreement comes just two months after nuTonomy raised $16 million in a Series A, led by Highland Capital Partners.

Is this the future of the automotive industry?

nuTonomy offers a glimpse into the changing power dynamics between auto manufacturers, tech firms, and city leaders. It also hints at the possibility of a non-ownership automotive model, where most choose a reliable ridesharing app over ownership of their own car.

It is not just Uber, Google, and Tesla, the tech-focused firms, that are interested in this type of model. General Motors and Ford are both testing ridesharing services, and the former even invested $500 million into Uber rival Lyft.

But firms don’t always get what they want, even if there is a consensus agreement. If the first generation services are incapable of the same consistency you get from owning a car, we suspect most customers will go elsewhere and purchase a car, if possible.

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