Today in Singapore, something that should have made global headlines…didn’t.
U.S. business NuTonomy has launched the first public trial of self-driving taxis. That’s right, if you are in the One-North business district, you can download Nutonomy’s app, and be picked up by a Robo taxi. Sort of.
The thing is, the technology isn’t quite at a point where it can operate autonomously, and a safe fashion. The reason this hasn’t hit the headlines is, just like Uber’s pending self-driving vehicle test, which is only a few days away – there will be a driver in the car. It’s a self-driving car, with a driver in the car also.
Accepting the fact that these tests are a necessary part of the process, it also feels like businesses should wait until self-driving cars are able to drive themselves before taking it to the public, even if tests are free for travellers at the moment. If something should go wrong during these tests, it has the potential to push the self-driving car movement back significantly, in the same way that the Bitchain was impacted disastrously by all publicity in the wake of Bitcoin scandals. Public perception in the case of new technology, is crucial to any form of immediate acceptance. Organisations seem to be overestimating public acceptance, and underestimating the hesitance that can flourish when something goes wrong during testing – hence the importance of keeping things quiet, or at least subtle – a lesson Google learnt after its well-publicised self driving car accident in San Francisco. Thankfully for NuTonomy, it’s press releases have been ignored by most of the mainstream media, but picked up by tech focused newshubs.
In Nutonomy’s defence, they really had no choice. As a small start-up – albeit one with multi-million dollar backers such as Highland Capital Partners, and the Singapore Economic Development Board, after Uber and Google begin to hit their self-driving straps, it will be almost impossible for any non-billion-dollar business to create waves.
But now, a small by comparison – but big by most standards – business will be able to claim it was the first self driving taxi service in the world. As long as there is a little star next to that, pointing out that there was also a human driver in the car.