You can now use your phone to hail a self-driving car in Singapore

NuTonomy self-driving car

Ride sharing services like Uber and Lyft plan to make autonomous cars an integral part of their services, but both better watch out as competitor Grab has already lapped them.

If you're unfamiliar with Grab, it's basically the Uber of Southeast Asia, and it's taken a huge step forward in making self-driving cars the transportation mode of choice.

People in Singapore will soon be able to request an autonomous Grab car by tapping a "robo-car" icon inside the Grab app. All rides will be free of charge during the pilot program, though there will only be six vehicles available, including Mitsubishi i-MiEVs and Renault Zoes.

Grab partnered with NuTonomy, an MIT spin-off tech startup that's working on self-driving cars. NuTonomy's cars are still being piloted, so two engineers will accompany the Grab vehicles to pick up passengers.

Additionally, the area where the self-driving Grab cars can operate is limited to a 1.5-square-mile section of Singapore called North 1. Singapore's Land Transport Authority selected this small area for autonomous car testing, according to The Verge.

Order up

Uber and Lyft won't be too far behind, as the companies are already testing their own autonomous cars. Uber teamed up with Volvo to develop modified XC90 SUVs for self-driving, and those hit the streets of Pittsburgh, Pa. on August 25.

Lyft, which is actually a partner of Grab, is playing a bit of catch up, but plans to test its own vehicles within a year. General Motors invested $500 million in Lyft, and the partnership will give the company a fleet of self-driving Chevrolet Bolts.

Will ordering a self-driving taxi via your smartphone catch on? We can't see how it wouldn't.

Lewis Leong
Lewis Leong is a freelance writer for TechRadar. He has an unhealthy obsession with headphones and can identify cars simply by listening to their exhaust notes.