Bostonians will get the chance to hail a self-driving cab by the end of this year, roboride startup NuTonomy announced today. It’s a continuation of a testing program the company began some months ago in Singapore.
Just one car, a modified Renault ZOE, will ply the paths of the Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park, a clearly delineated precinct, much like the high-tech section in Singapore the company’s existing robotaxis serve. In Singapore, the half-dozen or so cars—Renaults, with Volvos coming soon—started taking a select group of customers for rides in August, with one engineer sitting behind the wheel and another riding shotgun. Next year NuTonomy plans to open the service to all customers next year and eventually to expand service to other parts of the city-state.
Boston is the logical next step for the company, which is a spinoff of research done at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in nearby Cambridge. Other cities are expected to follow next year also.
In an interview back in April, NuTonomy’s CEO Karl Iagnemma told IEEE Spectrum that the company’s robodriving system relied a system of logical constraints that embody the rules of the road and the ways people drive. The logical structure is “verifiable, meaning that we're sure that the structures that come out of these rules exactly represent and adhere to the rules that we define,” he said. That logical nature should also make it easier for engineers to tweak the system.
Such tweaking will come as the software masters local signage and road markings, the company says in its statement. The software will also try to figure out how pedestrians, cyclists and drivers behave differently from those in Singapore; such things can vary widely between cultures.
Philip E. Ross is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. His interests include transportation, energy storage, AI, and the economic aspects of technology. He has a master's degree in international affairs from Columbia University and another, in journalism, from the University of Michigan.