Southeast Asia's most popular ride-hailing service Grab is teaming up with nuTonomy, a startup company that develops software for driverless transport systems, to bring its fleet of autonomous self-driving cars to Singapore, a step closer to its goal of a full commercial launch by 2018.
Grab is the second ride-hailing service to offer a driverless transport option, following the recent launch of Uber's first fleet of self-driving cars in Pittsburgh last month, which allowed driverless test runs.
"Partnering with Grab to expand our public trial in Singapore will yield valuable feedback and consumer insights as nuTonomy readies our on-demand self-driving car service for commercial launch in 2018," said Karl Iagnemma, nuTonomy's chief executive.
Select Grab customers in Singapore will find a new option in their Grab app called "robo-car," which summons one of nuTonomy's six driverless cars. Travel, though, is limited, because the city's Land Transport Authority only allowed a set perimeter for the driverless test runs. The driverless service will only be applicable within a 1.5 square-mile scope inside One-North, a business park in Queenstown, Singapore.
All rides will come free-of-charge for select users. But like Uber's approach, each driverless ride will be accompanied by a human driver behind the wheel, along with a software engineer. If a trip goes out of One-North, the human driver would swoop in, taking control for the remainder of the trip.
Initially, nuTonomy's partnership with Grab will operate for two months, in which the collaboration aims to study user patterns and behavior. It's a win-win for both parties: select customers get a free ride and a chance to experience firsthand how a driverless transport feels, while Grab and nuTonomy will use the data gathered to improve its service on fronts like mapping, routing, overall performance and the safety of users.
"This landmark tech partnership is a step towards supplementing Singapore's transport network," said Anthony Tan, Grab's chief executive and co-founder said.
In Singapore, the reliance on privately-owned cars to get around the city has grown rampant, and many ongoing driverless experiments within the city all throw in collective efforts to develop and promote the technology that can help reduce this problem.
The Grab-nuTonomy partnership adds another layer of competition in the fast-growing developments targeted at autonomous ride-hailing services. Recently, Grab managed to raise $750 million in a funding round, winning over Uber, that aims to expand its ride-hailing services in the Southeast Asian region, home to a potential market of more than 600 million people.
Grab's ride-hailing service has unprecedented proliferation in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Vietnam and the Philippines. It receives 1.5 million bookings daily. Uber, on the other hand, has been having trouble trying to gain footing in the Asian market in general. Just recently it succumbed to China's Didi Chuxing, a transportation network company in Beijing, prompting it to exit the Chinese market.