Self-Driving Taxis Have Arrived

Electric, automated taxis debuted in Singapore last week. Will they be the business-events industry's next disrupter?

Buckle your seatbelts: Singapore now boasts the world’s very first fleet of automated taxis. Although it’s in the early stages, automated public transportation has the potential to revolutionize both travel to and from meetings — as well as reduce the environmental impact of business events. 

Beginning last week some lucky — or brave, depending on your point of view —Singaporeans began using their smartphones to flag down the world’s first self-driving taxis. nuTonomy, an automated-vehicle startup jointly based in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Singapore, has tricked out Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicles with high-performance sensing and computing components, as well as their proprietary software.

Over the coming months, the nuTonomy fleet will collect data that will improve the automated navigation system’s response to road, traffic, and weather conditions. The company plans for a full-scale launch of the automated taxis in Singapore in 2018, and is also testing out its proprietary technology with the help of automotive partners in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and the U.K.

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nuTonomy co-founder Karl Iagnemma sees Singapore as an ideal proving ground for the company’s pilot program for a number of reasons: “There’s great infrastructure in Singapore, great weather, a law-abiding citizenry, and comfortable traffic flow,” he said in an interview with Fortune.

By Pod

In addition to nuTonomy’s automated taxis, visitors to Singapore can soon expect to see self-driving “pods” capable of accommodating as many as 24 passengers. SMRT, a transportation company that runs trains, buses, and taxis in Singapore, has partnered with Netherlands-based startup 2getthere to design and deploy group rapid transit (GRT) automated vehicles in Singapore by the end of 2016. Rather than share the road, GRTs operate more like trolleys, with designated pick-up and drop-off points for passengers. 2getthere has already implemented a similar automated vehicle system in Masdar City, Abu Dhabi.

On Autopilot 
Hot on the heels of startups like nuTonomy and 2getthere is … just about everyone.  It was clear at Automotive Testing Expo Europe, which was held in Hamburg, Germany on May 31–June 2, that the automotive industry is being rapidly transformed by automatic-navigation technology. 

Graham Johnson, manager of UKIP Media & Events, the event-production company working behind the scenes of the expo, told Convene that autonomous-vehicle technology was the key disruptor at this year’s meeting. “It’s such exciting technology. There were so many questions. There were so many exhibitors at the Auto Testing Expo that were bringing our really clever technology that will enable manufacturers and Tier 1’s to prove out this stuff,” he said. “On a personal level, as a car enthusiast, it’s great to walk around the show and see all these technologies that people are creating to help develop and bring autonomous vehicles to market.”

Kate Mulcrone

Kate Mulcrone is digital editor of Convene.