Startup Bringing Driverless Taxi Service to Singapore

Reading time ( words)

“That’s a 60 percent reduction in the number of vehicles operating in Singapore,” Frazzoli says. “This was a big sign of impact for [the Singaporean] government. At first we were asking them to let us test cars there — then they were asking us to come test.”

The algorithms also function through a “formal logic” that tells the taxis when low-priority “rules of the road” can be broken safely to drive flexibly and efficiently. For example, when driving around a double-parked car, with no oncoming cars, the taxi will see it’s not violating the most important rule — not hitting another object — and pass, Frazzoli says. “These are situations we encounter everyday, and we use our judgment to understand the rules we can violate,” Frazzoli says. “We have these same judgments embedded in our algorithms. … That allows us to exhibit complex behavior and respond in correct way in very many and very complicated scenarios.”

Additionally, Frazzoli says nuTonomy uses LIDAR data in a way that provides more accurate localization — that is, determining where the car is within its environment. All autonomous cars use LIDAR for object detection, but nuTonomy’s system, he says, localizes by detecting not only objects on the road but also stationary objects all around the car. “Even though stuff at road level can change all the time — you can have a car parked here or not, for example — a building is going to stay put,” Frazzoli says.

This has proven beneficial in difficult conditions for driverless cars to navigate. Last year, Frazzoli says nuTonomy successfully tested its vehicles in Michigan, where heavy snow caused whiteout conditions. “There was nothing [visible] on the ground, but who cares — the car was looking at the buildings” for localization, he says.

Going driverless

NuTonomy’s core technology and its connections with Singapore trace back about a decade at MIT. In 2006, Frazzoli joined an MIT team developing an autonomous vehicle for a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency grant. In 2009, he joined the Singapore-MIT Alliance for Research and Technology (SMART) Future of Urban Mobility project with aims of developing driverless taxis for Singapore.

Over the years, Frazzoli helped develop and test driverless golf carts in a Singaporean public garden through SMART, and teamed up with Iagnemma, who is a principal research scientist in MIT’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and the director of MIT’s Robotic Mobility Group, on other autonomous-vehicle projects. Both Frazzoli and Iagnemma also spent years lecturing far and wide about the benefits of driverless cars, to researchers and automakers.

“But no one was paying attention,” Frazzoli says. “So we figured we need to [develop driverless cars] ourselves.”

In 2013, they launched nuTonomy as an autonomous-car consulting service, before pivoting to a full-fledged autonomous taxi service provider for Singapore last year.

But focusing on Singapore instead of the United States wasn’t just about Frazzoli’s strong ties there: “[Singapore is] concerned with reducing congestion and trying to get the public to use public transportation as much as possible,” Frazzoli says. “At the same time, they’re facing an increase in population by 30 percent within 20 years or so. You cannot keep buying more buses and digging more subway lines. [Singapore] sees [driverless taxis] as a critical vision for their future.”

While developing its driverless taxi fleet, nuTonomy has bootstrapped through small contract projects for automakers. For Jaguar Land Rover, for instance, nuTonomy is developing an autonomous parking feature that will drop off a rider at, say, a shopping center and find its own spot in the parking lot. Such gigs have helped the company grow to 25 employees in Cambridge and Singapore offices, build relationships with the auto industry, and further develop its own software. “Before we get cars driving on the road, we need to be able to park,” Frazzoli says.

As nuTonomy’s driverless taxis in Singapore start getting noticed — along with the those by Google, Uber, and Tesla — Frazzoli anticipates politicians and the public will see the benefits of the technology. “As soon as people start seeing this is real and this is working, and this is the benefit it can provide to the public, then … people will start seeing that this can provide a solution to the mobility problem in big urban centers,” Frazzoli says.



Suggested Items

What It Takes to Be a Milaero Supplier, Part 2

03/24/2020 | Anaya Vardya, American Standard Circuits
The decision to pursue military and aerospace (milaero) certification impacts every facet of the organization, and not every shop is prepared to make this transformation. In Part 2, Anaya Vardya focuses on what it takes to be a milaero supplier in the areas of engineering and CAM.

Requirements of Being a MIL-certified Shop

11/12/2019 | Barry Matties, I-Connect007
Barry Matties speaks with American Standard Circuits’ VP of Business Development David Lackey, who has nearly 40 years of experience producing PCBs for the mil/aero market. David talks about what it’s like being a MIL-certified shop and the stringent quality and reporting requirements that it entails.

How to Dismantle a Nuclear Bomb

10/01/2019 | Peter Dizikes, MIT News Office
How do weapons inspectors verify that a nuclear bomb has been dismantled? An unsettling answer is: They don’t, for the most part. When countries sign arms reduction pacts, they do not typically grant inspectors complete access to their nuclear technologies, for fear of giving away military secrets.

Copyright © 2021 I-Connect007. All rights reserved.