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Yandex is a Russian tech giant that has its fingers in many pies, from food delivery to online search through to e-commerce and voice assistants. Often described as ‘Russia’s Google’, it’s also been busy developing driverless vehicles and testing them in cities such as Moscow, Las Vegas and Tel Aviv.

Artem Fokin is the Head of Business Development at Yandex self-driving cars. He’s been talking to Auto Futures about why his company entered the self-driving space.

“Machine learning is the base for all Yandex products, our computer vision is tested on billions of image search queries, we also have our own maps and navigation. In addition to that we have top-notch engineers, infrastructure and our own ride-hailing service, already operated in 17 countries,” Fokin tell us.

He adds: “It took us less than two years to go from early tests to a robo-taxi service without a driver behind the steering wheel. We made some calculations and it looks like it would take us at least a year more if we started everything from the scratch.”

Artem Fokin Yandex

“A streamlined avenue for producing self-driving cars at scale.”

In March 2019, Yandex and Hyundai Mobis agreed to jointly develop control systems for Level 4 and Level 5 autonomous vehicles and a new autonomous driving control system delivered as a solution intended for a wide variety of automotive platforms.

They are now collaborating on a self-driving prototype of a 2020 Hyundai Sonata.

“We’ll be working together to develop software and hardware systems for self-driving cars. The ultimate goal of this collaboration will be to create a self-driving platform that can be used by any car manufacturer or taxi fleet. Cooperating with a world class automotive supplier gives us a streamlined avenue for producing self-driving cars at scale.

“Hyundai Mobis’ expertise in safety technology will also ensure our self-driving cars meet the highest standards for passenger safety.”

Yandex Self Driving Car Innopolis Snow

Pilots and Milestones

Over the past few years, the company has already begun testing its technology. Since it first started operating on public roads in December 2017, it’s now reached the milestone of one million miles. 

In the Russian’s university city of Innopolis, residents have been offered free rides in a driverless taxi. Passengers can order rides to multiple set destinations in the city such as the university, the stadium, residential blocks, and the local business centre.

“With the development of the technology, the territories where our cars can drive in fully autonomous mode will be expanding. First to the outskirts of big cities, then to specific districts of big cities and finally in dense traffic of megapolis centres. We expect the last stage to be reached in 3-5 years. The time when we’ll be able to start charging for rides depends on when the regulations allow us to do that.” 

Fokin says the best way to reassure the public about self-driving is to share statistics. “As soon as self-driving cars compete millions of miles with significantly smaller number of accidents compared to human-driven miles, it will be the best proof of safety.”

Yandex Sdc Moscow 3

Rovers Roaming on the Sidewalks

Earlier this year, Yandex unveiled a delivery robot that can intelligently and autonomously deliver packages. It’s called Yandex.Rover after the classic lunar landing vehicles. It’s a suitcase-sized vehicle that can navigate along its route on city sidewalks at a walking pace. It’s based on the same technology as the self-driving cars.

“The rover moves completely autonomously. It can recognize objects, plan the route, stop for pedestrians or animals, and avoid obstacles. Thanks to its lidar, it can confidently move even in the dark. Yandex.Rover utilizes our achievements in self-driving. We have adapted our existing technologies for new challenges and a new vehicle with a different set of sensors.”

A number of rovers are already on the road, carrying packages around the company’s headquarters in Moscow.

Fokin says that the Yandex.Rover fits seamlessly into the Yandex ecosystem. “It can be delivering orders for restaurant delivery service Yandex.Eats, groceries for local grocery delivery service Yandex.Lavka, goods for online marketplace Beru, or operating across the company’s warehouses.”

Fokin tells us that, following the testing period, Yandex.Rover might become available for other companies to purchase.

Yandexrover Delivery Robot 2

Global Shifts in Mobility

As for the future, Fokin sees several trends in urban mobility. “One is the growing popularity ride-hailing and car sharing services, and they seem to be among the first to join the shift to self-driving. It’s already economically reasonable, self-driving taxi fleet is easier to plan and manage, and the level of service and safety will always be equally high.” 

He concludes: “Automation is a global trend in general. Routine tasks will be constantly getting automated, leaving humans more time for interesting and creative activities.” 

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