A company named nuTonomy made the headlines this week as the first company to provide a fleet of autonomous cabs. It would have beaten Uber in the intent. The sad news is that very few people seem to have read the press release the company issued. And the fact is that it is much more of a marketing piece than a huge technological breakthrough.
Using a fleet of Renault Zoe or Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicles (which nuTonomy does not disclose, so the fleet may be composed only by 2 vehicles, as far as we know), the company will provide “a no-cost ride in a nuTonomy self-driving car that employs the company’s sophisticated software” around “Singapore’s one-north business district, where nuTonomy has been conducting daily autonomous vehicle (AV) testing since April”. Apart from that, “an engineer from nuTonomy will ride in the vehicle to observe system performance and assume control if needed to ensure passenger comfort and safety”.
We will translate that to you, in case you didn’t get it by yourself already: nuTonomy will let people ride in their cars while they are testing their software. Period. These people will just ballast on the cars, what makes no difference whatsoever for the development of the technology. They may provide the path the car shall follow within a very restricted area, but we are not sure it will even be allowed. Perhaps the cars will have a defined path and people who are heading the same way could hitchhike. And that’s it.
The intention with this marketing piece is to tell nuTonomy intends to offer a “widely-available commercial robo-taxi service in Singapore in 2018”. Will it still need an engineer inside the car to take over in case of an emergency? How much will it cost to have an engineer as a taxi driver? We have no idea. We just would like to read news for what they really are in more places apart from MotorChase…