The elusive self-driving cars of Singapore

Self-Driving taxis are on the road already in Singapore - but they're hard to get a ride in right now.

While we’re on the subject of self-driving cars, I’m having a frustrating time right now. I’m in a city that has self-driving taxis on the road right now: Singapore. And I can’t get in one.

nuTonomy is trialling its cars in the city – but it’s not like you can hail one from the road or (more accuratly) an app. You have to apply for a ride and, although I’ve filled in the form, it doesn’t look like I’ll get a ride before I have to fly home, alas.

As The Straits Times reports:

nuTonomy chief operations officer Doug Parker told The Straits Times that it chose to try out the service in Singapore because of the high consumer demand for taxis here, well-maintained roads and clear government regulations for its tests. “Singapore is the best place in the world for self-driving cars,” said Mr Parker.

For now, the service is limited to an invited group of about 10 people.

And I’m am not one of them, alas.

And this makes me even sadder:

They can use a smartphone app to summon nuTonomy’s self-driving vehicle for free rides to one of 12 locations in one-north. These include the Mediacorp Campus and the Genome building, which lie along the 6km stretch of road where nuTonomy has been testing its vehicles since April. Due to safety concerns, the service will not be available during peak hours.

Well, rats. Summoning a cab from my Apple Watch. I want that now.

There’s much about Singapore that makes it an ideal city for this sort of experiment. It has wide, straight roads, and isn’t over-complicated by little back streets. And it’s a small island country, nice contained and mappable – a perfect situation for the early stages of this tech.

And taxis feel like such a clear use case for this tech. Singapore is a very taxi-driven city, especially when the rain hits. Nothing makes you wish for an app driven taxi hailing experience, that summons of of a deeply efficient fleet of computer-controlled vehicles than queueing in the hotel taxi queue on a rainy day, just waiting for a human driver to gamble on picking up a ride at that hotel, when most of the taxis have been grabbed by rain-dodging locals.

There’s an old Bill Gates quote:

We always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.

If we get the right experience, self-driving cars will be a reality sooner than we expect. Until then, I’ll wait in the rain for a cab, quietly wishing that I could call those autonomous taxis to me.