SINGAPORE—Singapore became the first country in the world to launch a self-driving taxi service on Thursday.
Singapore’s nuTonomy, founded by two researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said Thursday it began testing a free taxi-hailing service in a small business district in Singapore called one-north, a campus-like space dominated by tech firms and biotechnology companies.
The trial was given the blessing of the Singapore government, which has long sought to turn the city-state into a hub for disruptive technology through generous financial-assistance programs and research partnerships with firms like nuTonomy.
NuTonomy’s test vehicles, a Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric car, will have a computer engineer and backup human driver during the trial phase in case anything goes wrong, and can be hailed by select members of the public using a smartphone app, the company said. The one-north district is a self-contained area of about 0.8 square miles accessible by trunk roads but much quieter than most public roads in Singapore. NuTonomy said it would test its vehicles on a 6 kilometer (3.7 mile) route.
Mr. Parker said the Singapore government had laid out a series of milestones for nuTonomy to achieve before it is allowed to extend its trials to other areas of the city. He declined to provide details on those milestones, but said the next stage would be to expand the service to a neighborhood adjacent to one-north.
Autonomous vehicles are pitched as safer and more reliable than human drivers, but many people say they distrust machines because they aren’t capable of making moral or instinctive decisions as a human may do. Some industry observers say autonomous driving technologies are years away from public use for these reasons.
NuTonomy’s Mr. Parker said one of the trial’s goals is to introduce the public to the new technology. “We don’t want it to be scary,” he said.