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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.

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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.