Singaporeans and visitors will probably miss the customary chat with the cab driver when taking a taxi to get along in the city state in the near future. Next year, the Singapore Land Transit Authority in partnership with UK automotive supplier Delphi Automotive Plc will launch preparations for a test run of a fleet of automated taxis for an on-demand autonomous cab service.
The three-year pilot project will, as a start, have driverless cars ferrying passengers and goods around a business park in the island nation and, if successful, will be expanded to a regularly operating, commercial automated taxi service.
Delphi plans to start the project with a fleet of Audi vehicles equipped with automated driving and mapping systems. Later, electric vehicles will be added.
In the first year of the test run, Delphi plans to lay out the technological groundwork. The vehicles will be deployed during the second year, and passengers will be chosen to test the system from a cross-section of the Singapore population. The system will work similar to ride-hailing services like Lyft and Uber for rides-on-demand along a four-mile route at One-North, a business park in Queenstown district.
The cars will operate at low speeds — about 40 kmh — along three fixed routes to ferry people from their homes or offices to mass transit stations. Delphi will also develop a cloud-based software platform to run the service.
In the first phase, cars will have “safety drivers” to take over in emergencies. But from 2019, Delphi expects to offer cars without pedals, steering wheel or driver that customers can summon through a smartphone app to take them beyond the initial fixed routes.
One of the main advantages of such driverless taxis is lower costs, Delphi argues. While a cab ride in a dense urban area can cost $3 to $4 a mile, Delphi Vice President of Engineering Glen DeVos said in an interview that “we think we can get to 90 cents a mile with an automated vehicle.”
In turn, many taxi drivers will probably become unemployed which is the collateral damage such disruptive technologies usually bring with them.
Delphi is, however, not the only one planning to equip the city state with driverless taxis. The startup nuTonomy Inc – a small spin-out from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology based in Cambridge, US, and Singapore – is working on its own autonomous vehicle technology with the target to deploy a fleet of self-driving taxis in Singapore by 2018. Reportedly, nuTonomy has been selected to participate in the upcoming trials by Delphi.