An autonomous vehicle software start-up in Singapore, nuTonomy, on Thursday announced the launch of its self-driving taxi service – the first of its kind in the world. The company beat ride-hailing service Uber, which aims to offer rides in autonomous cars in Pittsburgh, USA, in a few weeks, AP reported.

The start-up said select passengers can book the service for free through their smartphones. For years now, companies like Google and Volvo have been testing the concept of self-driving cars. The Singapore-based service will commence with six cars and plans to expand to around 12 vehicles by the end of 2016.

According to a report by The Guardian, the cars will have a safety driver seated at the wheel. Karl Iagnemma, CEO of nuTonomy said, “The pilot is going to allow us to collect technical data, but equally importantly, it’s going to allow us to find out if people enjoy riding in driverless cars."

The vehicles, which are modified Renault Zoe and Mitsubishi i-MiEV electric cars, will have a researcher in the back seat monitoring the functioning. The cars will also have a detection system called Lidar that will use lasers to operate like radar, and two cameras on the dashboard that will detect obstacles and traffic lights.

The company says the service will reduce traffic congestion in the country, and it could serve as a model case for cities across the globe. With good weather and drivers who are known to obey traffic rules, Singapore is an ideal launchpad for the service, the company's CEO said.