Uber hasn’t had the best of luck in Asia thus far, having recently pulled out of the Chinese market. Now it looks like it’s facing even more competition. A new partnership between Grab, the largest ride-hailing service in Southeast Asia, and NuTonomy, a self-driving car startup with roots in MIT, will give Uber a serious run for its money as it begins to create a fleet of self-driving cars that can be hailed with a smartphone. Given that much of Uber’s inability to turn a profit worldwide has been linked to its driver’s fees (thus its interest in autonomous technology), this is one overseas development the Silicon Valley-based startup is going to want to keep a trained eye on.
It’s been a good few days for Grab, which raised $750 million earlier last week. And now, its collaboration with NuTonomy seems to be catapulting the firm even farther into the future. The MIT spinoff first made headlines when it began public tests of self-driving cars in Singapore back in August, beating Uber to the punch; the California company began its own tests in Pittsburgh shortly thereafter. NuTonomy is now prolonging its initial trial by making these self-driving cars go on-demand.
To indicate that there are robot taxis around and ready for a ride, Grab is placing a special icon in the apps of a few customers who will be privy to the test phase. While there’s only a limited area in which the NuTonomy self-driving cars are allowed to traverse truly unmanned (though there’s always a human supervisor in the car), Grab passengers who wish to leave this business district known as One North will still be able to do so — the vehicle will simply be taken over by its flesh and blood controller.
Interestingly enough, unlike Uber, Grab has not previously emphasized the importance of autonomous technology to their strategy. But all the same, it looks as though it knows a good opportunity when it sees one.
Grab CEO Anthony Tan said in a statement, “This landmark tech partnership is a step toward supplementing Singapore’s transport network with an innovative driverless commuting option for underserved areas of Singapore.”