UK-based Delphi Automotive announced on Monday it expects to launch a small test fleet of automated taxis in Singapore next year, aiming to ferry passengers around a city district in one of the first real-world tests of automated rides on demand.
The project, run in partnership with the Singapore Land Transit Authority, will road test a concept that many companies investing in automated driving believe offers the fastest path to making such technology commercially viable.
According to Delphi vice-president of engineering Glen DeVos, the vehicles will have drivers ready to take over if the piloting systems fail, with drivers expected to be completely removed by 2019 or 2020.
By 2022, the Singapore authority plans to launch a regularly operating self-driving cab service, Delphi said.
Delphi also said it has plans for similar projects in North America and Europe, with DeVos speculating a site in the US could be selected as early as this year.
The Singapore project will kick off with a fleet of Audi vehicles equipped with automated driving and mapping systems. DeVos said the project will expand with the addition of electric vehicles, noting the Singapore project has been deliberately kept to a small scale.
"We are going to do it incrementally in a very controlled manner," he said.
Delphi is working with other companies, including Israel's Mobileye NV, to develop the sensor systems to enable vehicles to operate autonomously, and the Singapore Land Transit Authority will supply infrastructure to help the vehicles navigate safely.
Delphi is doing its own mapping, but DeVos said the company is "looking at mapping alternatives including a service offered by Mobileye".
Other companies are studying the economics of using automated driving systems to replace human drivers in taxi or ride-hailing services, including Uber Technologies which is reportedly planning to invest $500 million into a global mapping project that will eventually remove its dependency on Google Maps.
Uber is currently working on rolling out its fleet of autonomous vehicles after kicking off its self-driving hybrid Ford Fusion testing on the streets of Pittsburgh -- the home of the startup's autonomous vehicle quarters -- a few months ago.
Uber's competitor Lyft has partnered with General Motors to do the same, the vehicle veterans having teamed up with researchers at Deakin University to focus on developing "innovative and competitive" solutions for the future of the automotive market.
In a space previously dominated by tech companies like Google, other traditional car manufacturers are also working towards autonomous vehicles.
Japanese car manufacturer Nissan said it will have road-ready autonomous cars by 2020; Hyundai previously said it was pushing for commercial self-driving cars within the next five years; Volvo has already set out plans to test driverless vehicles on the streets of London from next year; Toyota recently opened a research institute with a focus on "fully autonomous" driving; and BMW wants to have its first fully driverless vehicle on the roads within five years.
Similarly, Ford announced it was moving its autonomous driving technology research plans upward to a full-scale advanced engineering program, with the car manufacturer's autonomous car project technical lead telling ZDNet previously that self-driving cars are five years away from changing the world.