The world's first driverless taxis have hit the road (beating Uber)

 
Lynsey Barber
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Singapore's smart cities initiative has led to the first robo-taxi (Source: NuTonomy)

The first-ever driverless taxis have hit the road in Singapore, and despite the ambitious plans of Uber announced just last week that it's about to put autonomous cabs into service, the billion dollar startup has been pipped to the post.

Residents of Singapore will spot the robo-taxis driving around the business district and they will even be able to hail one of them if they are part of the trial, with just a tap of an app on their smartphone.

NuTonomy, a US-based startup which was born out of the prestigious MIT, is behind the technology milestone and believes it can have a fully autonomous commercial robo-taxi service widely available on the roads as soon as 2018.

Read more: Uber's driverless cars hitting roads within weeks after $300m Volvo tie-up

For now, the cars will also have engineers at the ready to take the wheel in case of an emergency.

“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. 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," said chief executive and co-founder Karl Iagnemma.

The firm's efforts have been helped by the Singapore government, which has focused on fostering so-called smart cities technology such as autonomous vehicles, designed to solve the problems common to big cities like traffic, pollution and growing populations.

Read more: Driverless cars, AI and blockchain: Meet the Gartner Hype Cycle of 2016

It also landed investment from the country's economic development board, as well as several venture capital firms and is testing out its technology in the UK with manufacturers such as Jaguar Land Rover and in Michigan in the US.

Uber last week revealed it is about to put its own self-driving taxis on the roads of Pittsburgh in the coming weeks. It is one of many technology firms, including Google and Apple, as well as traditional car manufacturers in the race to bring driverless cars to the road.

Watch NuTonomy's car in real-life below.

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