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This Boston startup is putting us on the fast track to self-driving cars

On the streets of Boston, nuTonomy develops a future complete with autonomous vehicles.

Boston, MA - November 29, 2016: Karl Iagnemma co-founder of nuTonomy poses for a portrait with a self driving car in Boston, MA on November 29, 2016. (Craig F. Walker/The Boston Globe) Section: lifestyles reporter:

Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File

Karl Iagnemma, cofounder of nuTonomy, with one of the Boston-based startup’s self-driving cars.

Boston-based startup nuTonomy launched the world’s first robotic taxicabs in a pilot program last year in Singapore. Now the company is testing autonomous cars on Boston’s streets. It’s the next step in the company’s plan to deliver efficient pay-as-you-go transportation by fielding fleets of self-driving cars.

NuTonomy wants to steer vehicles, not build them. “There are lots of companies that build cars,” says cofounder Karl Iagnemma, former director of the Robotic Mobility Group at MIT. “There are very few companies that know how to build the software to make them drive by themselves.” That’s nuTonomy’s gig. The company is testing its software on battery-powered vehicles from French automaker Renault. Once it’s perfected the technology, nuTonomy plans to operate fleets of self-driving taxis.

Iagnemma concedes that fully autonomous fleets are years away. Still, Americans drove 3.2 trillion miles last year. A self-driving taxi fleet that captured just 1 percent of the market and charged 50 cents per mile would generate $16 billion in revenue. If nuTonomy can build the software to power the vehicles, the payoff will be immense.

Hiawatha Bray is a Globe staff writer. Send comments to magazine@globe.com. Follow us on Twitter @BostonGlobeMag.
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