Grab, Southeast Asia’s rival to Uber, has agreed a partnership with the robotics company testing self-driving taxis on the streets of Singapore.

The agreement, which could ultimately see the ride-hailing app offering a robot taxi service alongside human drivers, was announced on Friday after US start-up nuTonomy launched a trial robo-taxi service last month.

Although nuTonomy has its own mobile hailing app, teaming up with Singapore-based Grab allows the robotics company to tap into the bigger start-up’s large customer base, as well as its routing and mapping systems.

The partnership highlights mounting interest from ride-hailing platforms in robot driving technology after Uber launched its driverless car testing programme with passengers in Pittsburgh last week.

Grab, which said this week that it had raised $750m in equity financing, is facing intensifying competition from Uber, which is shifting resources from China following its truce with rival Didi Chuxing.

The tie-up will allow selected Grab customers to use their app to book driverless rides using a new “robo-car” icon.

The rides will be free and passengers will be accompanied by a safety driver and support engineer, in a trial aimed at learning more about how customers interact with robo-taxis.

Grab sees driverless cars as a way of meeting customer demand in remote areas of Singapore, which are less well served by drivers.

Karl Iagnemma, chief executive and co-founder of nuTonomy, said: “Partnering with Grab will yield valuable feedback and consumer insights as nuTonomy readies our on-demand self-driving car service for commercial launch in 2018.”

One finding of nuTonomy’s trial, in a 6km grid of streets in the One North district of Singapore, has been that customers want more information about what the car’s laser, radar and camera sensors are “seeing” as it drives, according to the company.

For the Grab pilot, driverless rides will be restricted to the One North district. Outside this area, the safety driver will take the wheel.

Anthony Tan, Grab’s chief executive, said: “We look forward to collaborating with nuTonomy to research this future mobility solution as part of our growing platform of mobility offerings.”

While Grab is little-known outside Southeast Asia, it operates across 30 cities in the region and claims to be the market-leading ride-hailing business. 

Driverless cars have strong backing from Singapore’s government, which sees the technology as a way to curb private car usage and stimulate the economy. 

Singapore’s transport regulator has smoothed the way for road trials while a government agency invested in nuTonomy as part of the series A round.

Vehicle technology supplier Delphi is also due to begin testing self-driving cars in Singapore this year.



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