Following in the tire treads of Uber, Yandex.Taxi, an on-demand taxi service in Moscow operated by Russian internet giant Yandex, has revealed it is working on self-driving car technology. Video released today shows a prototype vehicle weaving through a barrel obstacle course and avoiding pedestrians, as the company prepares to unleash it on public roads next year.
Although Yandex's background as an internet services company – and most popular search engine in Russia – doesn't necessarily lend itself to developing automotive hardware, the suite of software elements required for self-driving capabilities is a different story. The company says it has long used mapping, real-time navigation, computer vision and object recognition software in many of its internet services and products, which includes Yandex.Maps and Yandex.Navigator.
The prototype vehicle the company has developed makes decisions using a set of proprietary algorithms, artificial intelligence and machine learning technology. Not everything has been developed in house, though: the car itself is a Toyota Prius, the processor in the boot is from Nvidia, and the radar unit on the roof comes from Velodyne.
The Yandex.Taxi is being developed with the goal of delivering Level 5 autonomy, which means fully autonomous operation with no human intervention ever required. Although the video shows the car negotiating some tricky situations – weaving through barrels, detecting pedestrians and avoiding a truck – it never gets above about 15 km/h (9 mph). The steering wheel is always moving, too, like a nervous learner on a narrow street.
"Self-driving cars are set to revolutionalize the way we commute within a matter of a decade," says Dmitry Polishchuk, head of Yandex.Taxi. "At this point in time, there are dozens of companies around the world building their own driverless cars, but only a few of them have components crucial for turning this project into reality. These components include a stack of reliable technologies and algorithms, engineering expertise and resources, and access to the market for self-driving vehicles."
Yandex is testing in a controlled area for now, but the plan is to have a sensor-covered Toyota Prius V running around on public roads next year. It will need to clock up some time on the road to catch Google's Waymo, which has covered well over 600,000 miles (695,606 km) in 2015, many of them on the roads around Mountain View in California.
You can check out the Yandex self-driving car prototype in the video below.