Until last week, it was expected that Uber, world’s largest cab aggregator firm, would be the first to roll out ‘driverless’ cabs that can be hailed from a phone app as early as the end of this month. However, on August 26, Singaporean autonomous vehicle start-up nuTonomy rolled out public trials of its autonomous cab service in a small district in the city state. Although the scale of nuTonomy’s trial is much smaller than what Uber plans to do in Pittsburgh, its intentions are the same and the race to be the first to offer autonomous vehicles as a consumer service will only get intense.
Uber bought Otto, a driverless truck start-up firm, and then signed a deal with Volvo to modify the Volvo XC90 SUV with cameras, lasers, radars and GPS instrumentation. While doing so it edged past Google, which has several years’ worth of data from its autonomous car, as well as Tesla, which recently announced plans to introduce Auto Pilot 2.0 — an advanced version of its self-driving technology.
Tests undertaken at present are not exactly with empty driver seats. The Singaporean company and Uber have specially-trained drivers with hands off the wheel to take control of the vehicle as the situation demands. More often than not, it is the vehicle that indicates when it needs human intervention, but all controls respond to human inputs on priority. The co-passenger is usually a data scientist who is tracking all inputs real-time to help understand how the driving algorithm can be improved. Uber’s car even has a computer in the trunk to help with processing of all this data real-time. To incentivise riders, all rides in autonomous cabs are free for now.