Self-driving car startup nuTonomy will begin testing its cars in Boston soon


NuTonomy is already running a commercial pilot program in Singapore.

NuTonomy, a self-driving car startup spun out of MIT and based in Cambridge, Mass., will soon begin testing its autonomous vehicles in Boston.

The company, which launched a commercial self-driving pilot in Singapore in August, has been given permission to operate its vehicles in the city’s Raymond L. Flynn Marine Park.

NuTonomy, which also recently forged a partnership with Southeast Asia’s homegrown ride-hail player Grab, is moving relatively quickly toward its goal of launching a full-fledged on-demand network of self-driving cars in Singapore by 2018. (We rode in the self-driving car that is now operating in Singapore’s business district.)

While the Singapore pilot program is open to the public in order to test both its vehicles and its ride-matching software, initially only in-house engineers will be riding the autonomous cars in Boston.

The plan is for the robot cars to get to learn the streets of Boston and signs and traffic signals that may differ from those in Singapore.

“These tests in the city of Boston will enable our engineers to adapt our autonomous vehicle software to the weather and traffic challenges of this unique driving environment,” company CEO and co-founder Karl Iagnemma said in a statement. “Testing our self-driving cars so near to nuTonomy’s home is the next step towards our ultimate goal: deployment of a safe, efficient, fully autonomous mobility-on-demand transportation service.”

The company poses a potential threat to both Uber and Lyft, as well as Google, particularly if nuTonomy intends to launch its commercial service in the U.S. (The company wouldn’t comment on its plans.)

Lyft hasn’t publicly shown its work on autonomous cars, but Uber has opened up its self-driving test to the public. Within days of nuTonomy’s launch of its commercial pilot in Singapore, Uber launched its own in Pittsburgh.

Google, on the other hand, has spent more than seven years working on its autonomous technology and has yet to publicly disclose its plans for commercialization. Two million miles later, the company has made some significant headway technologically and is typically able to navigate city streets without having to return control to an engineer — a feat neither Uber nor nuTonomy can yet boast.

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