Weekly Brief: World’s first self-driving taxis hit the streets of Singapore

In a quiet district of Singapore, a little-known start-up just laid claim to one of the transportation industry's biggest prizes – the first fully operational, street-legal self-driving taxis.

The start-up is named nuTonomy, and its fleet of electric vehicles, which consists of Renaults and Mitsubishis souped-up with proprietary self-driving software, is now picking up registered passengers and whisking them around Singapore, for free no less. A couple caveats here: there is still a driver behind the wheel (nuTonomy insists that’s just a precaution for now), and "around town" is really just a four square kilometre zone approved by the Singaporean government for a pilot. Still, this is an upset of gargantuan proportions. For the past half decade, everyone from Google to Uber to Lyft to Tesla to Ford has been racing to get self-driving cars on the road, and many of them in a ride-hailing capacity.

For nuTonomy to take the prize is as if an unknown runner had taken home the hundred metre dash in Rio. Uber is set to launch a driverless taxi pilot of its own in the streets of downtown Pittsburghin early September. nuTonomy says that it plans to have a full fleet of self-driving taxis on the road in Singaporeby 2018.

In other news, Delphi and Mobileye are co-developing the market’s first turnkey, level 4/5 automated driving solution. This is good news for any car company that has taken a cautious approach to robot cars, as they will be able to catch up or even leapfrog those competitors that have been aggressively developing in-house solutions. The kit will fuse software and sensors from Delphiwith machine learning and mapping from Mobileye, and will be production ready in 2019. First demos due out at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show.

Speaking of laggards on the self-driving front, Hyundai is in conversations with Google to integrate Google's autonomous tech into future Hyundai vehicles. In an unusually candid interview, Hyundai president Jeong Jin Haeng acknowledged that Hyundai is lagging behind its competition when it comes to robot cars and that to remain competitive it must partner with IT companies. Google is the obvious choice since Hyundai's former head of US operations, John Krafcik, now leads Google's self-driving car project.

Don't have time to endlessly circle the block in search of free parking? Ford added a booking service to its mobile app FordPass so that users can locate, reserve, and pay for parking before they even set off for their destination. This only applies to parking garages, so if you're parking on the street, still bring your pocket change.

Lyft pumped the brakes on its carpooling endeavour in the San Francisco Bay Area. The feature gives drivers incentives to pick up passengers travelling a similar route with a transit bonus of anywhere from $4-£10 (£3-7.60) per ride. Lyft says that it may bring the service back in the future but that there is not enough demand to support the business in 2016. Navigation app Waze launched a similar service in the Bay Area this spring called Waze Rider, which pays drivers a suggested price of $0.54 per mile. Waze Rider is still active.

Opel is promising to revolutionise the electric vehicle market with the debut of its Ampera-e at the upcoming Paris Motor Show. Among its specs, the car can go from zero to 50kmh in 3.2 seconds, has a top speed of 150kmh and a maximum torque of 360Nm, meaning that the Ampera-e can go head-to-head with many petrol powered sports cars. Infotainment includes the latest generations of IntelliLink and Opel OnStar.

Finally, Lexus became the second major carmaker to snub Apple CarPlay and Android Auto. As Toyota did last year, Lexus has selected Telenav's Scout GPS Link instead. The free app creates a simplified dashboard interface drawn from the user's smartphone and includes Telenav's native navigation solution. We’ll see if this proves a boon or a bane for Lexus (or neither) in the long run. The risk is that as customers increasingly choose their cars based on digital interfaces, Apple or Android junkies might eschew the Lexus brand at all costs.

The Weekly Brief is a round-up of the week’s top telematics news, combining TU-Automotive analysis with information from industry press releases.

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