Uber's rival Grab ties up with driver-less startup nuTonomy

Users of ride-hailing firm Grab's app would be able to  book driver-less cars from Friday as it partnered with a start-up, testing the technology in Singapore, only days following rival Uber launching its self-driving vehicles in the US.

According to commentators, the move comes in the backdrop of technology companies and automakers rushing to embrace a fundamental long-term makeover of personal transportation.

According to Southeast Asia's Grab, its app would allow a selected group of commuters to book and ride start-up nuTonomy's driverless vehicles within a western Singapore district, and adjacent neighbourhoods, where the vehicles are undergoing tests.

According to a statement by the two companies, a safety driver and support engineer would ride in each nuTonomy car.

While Grab users would be able to request a ''robo-car'' in advance from Friday, they would be able to ride them only from early next week.

nuTonomy, which started a limited public trial of the first driver-less taxi in August in Singapore, said it hoped to have 100 taxis operating in the city-state by 2018 (See:nuTonomy's driverless cabs on Singaporean roads gain momentum). To book a ride, passengers need to select the 'robo-car' option on Grab's app, which has been downloaded over 20 million times. Commuters would need to be 18 years of age, book in advance and sign a liability waiver. They would enjoy free rides for at least two months.

"We will be combining nuTonomy's self-driving car software with Grab's app, with their proven fleet routing technology and their mapping capabilities," said nuTonomy CEO Karl Iagnemma.

The cars - modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electrics - have a safety driver in front who would be prepared to take  the wheel and a researcher in back who watched the car's computers.

According to Iagnemma, if a pick-up or drop-off point was out of approved testing perimeters, the driver would take over for the rest of the journey.