The world's first self-driving taxi service is now undergoing a public trial in Singapore, as nuTonomy just beat Uber to the punch.

Uber recently announced that it will trial its self-driving rides picking up passengers in Pittsburgh this month, but it seems that nuTonomy is one step ahead. While it may not enjoy the great brand recognition of Uber, Google and other companies making efforts in the autonomous driving field, nuTonomy is now testing self-driving taxis in Singapore, planning to deploy a wider commercial launch in 2018.

MIT-spinoff nuTonomy is a 3-year-old autonomous driving software startup with great ambitions, and it just managed to beat all others to the market. The self-driving taxi service trial kicked off on Thursday, Aug. 25, and it's open to the public as well, not just test engineers. According to the company, this marks "the first-ever public trial of a robo-taxi service."

Trial is taking place in Singapore's one-north business district, where the company has been conducting trials for self-driving cars since April. Starting on Thursday, select residents in Singapore will be invited to book a free self-driving car ride through nuTonomy's ride-hailing smartphone app.

The company will use either Renault Zoe or Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicles outfitted with high-end sensing and computing elements, specifically configured for autonomous driving. Each self-driving taxi ride will have a nuTonomy engineer riding in the vehicle, observing the system performance and assuming control should the need arise to ensure the passenger's safety and comfort.

Throughout the entire duration of the trial, nuTonomy will collect and assess data regarding the performance of the software system, the efficiency of vehicle routing, the ride booking process, as well as the passenger experience overall. This data will help the company prepare for a wide commercial robo-taxi service in 2018 in Singapore.

Considering the efforts and investments that other companies have made toward the development and deployment of self-driving vehicles, this achievement marks a huge milestone for the smaller nuTonomy.

Uber, for instance, recently bought startup Otto and also entered an agreement with Volvo to deliver fully autonomous vehicles by 2021. Ford, for its part, promised to deploy fully autonomous vehicles by 2021 as well.

Just to be clear, the current trials that require engineers to be in the car, ready to take over should anything go awry, mean the vehicles are not fully autonomous just yet. Full autonomy would mean the self-driving car doesn't need assistance and doesn't require engineers to be behind the wheel at all times.

Though fully autonomous vehicles may still be years away, nuTonomy's new achievement marks an impressive milestone toward the deployment of commercial self-driving vehicles.

"nuTonomy's first-in-the-world public trial is a direct reflection of the level of maturity that we have achieved with our AV software system," says nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma. "The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting, and this feedback will give nuTonomy a unique advantage as we work toward deployment of a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018."

To get a better idea of what this trial entails, check out the video below.

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