An American start-up has beaten Uber to become the first firm to test driverless taxis with members of the public.

nuTonomy has launched self-driving taxis in a business district in Singapore.

Taxi disrupter Uber announced recently that it plans to roll out new self-driving cars in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, following a $300 million (£228m) deal with car giant Volvo.

Reports indicated that the service will become available from the end of August.

nuTonomy, which was founded by two researchers from prestigious university Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has beaten it to the punch.

People in the test zone in Singapore can summon Renault Zoe or Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric vehicles using an app and ride for free.

A company engineer will be in the car in case anything goes wrong.

"The trial represents an extraordinary opportunity to collect feedback from riders in a real-world setting, and this feedback will give nuTonomy a unique advantage as we work toward deployment of a self-driving vehicle fleet in 2018," said Karl Iagnemma, who co-founded the company with Emilio Frazzoli.

nuTonomy co-founders Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli

nuTonomy co-founders Karl Iagnemma and Emilio Frazzoli

The firm, which raised $19.6 million (£14m) in two rounds of investment this year, said the vehicles contain "high-performance sensing and computing components".

Uber’s planned trial will also see members of the public ride for free.

Volvo is expected to provide 100 of the modified vehicles by the end of the year.

Uber has recently predicted that in the long term, it will be cheaper to use the app for transport than owning a car.

Singapore is planning to introduce a second driverless taxi pilot as it bids to solve its congestion problems.

The island city state has signed a deal with Delphi Automotive, a vehicle electronics supplier, to test a fleet of six Audis.

The scheme will begin later this year and initially include drivers who could take the wheel if needed.

Delphi, which tested self-driving cars in the US last year, plans to hold similar trials in Europe. Jaguar Land Rover will hold self-driving car trials in the UK this year.

In 2014, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said of its 'smart city' plans: "Our advantage is that we are compact, we have a single level of government, we can decide efficiently, we can scale up successful experiments and pilots without any delay."

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