The self-driving car revolution is making waves in Russia. On Tuesday, the country’s largest tech firm Yandex announced Europe’s first autonomous taxi service. The service, which will see two vehicles ferry passengers to fixed destinations for free, is a big step for the technology outside of the confines of Silicon Valley.
“Since we launched our driverless car prototype back in May 2017, we have made significant progress developing our technology and testing it in urban environments,” Artem Fokin, head of business development for Yandex.Taxi Self-Driving, tells Inverse. “Combining our expertise in machine learning and transportation services, we have progressed to launch the first autonomous ride-hailing service in Europe. Ultimately, our goal is to develop Level 5 technology that is suitable for any manufacturer’s car, and in the future we plan to provide full scale autonomous ride-hailing service in other cities in Russia.”
Silicon Valley firms like Waymo, Uber, and Tesla have made headlines with their autonomous driving projects, but the technology is a global phenomenon. Oxbotica is delivering groceries in the United Kingdom, China-based Didi Chuxing hired a famous car hacker last year for its internal project, and Russia’s Cognitive Technologies is facing off against Yandex with its autonomous vans.
Yandex’s service will run in the small town of Innopolis. Yandex’s two vehicles will enable customers to choose from a set of fixed destinations like the tech-focused university, local residential area, and the stadium. Over 100 people have used the Telegram encrypted messaging app to speak with a chatbot and register their interest in Yandex’s service.
It’s a key first step, but Yandex isn’t stopping here. Future plans involve removing the safety driver from the equation, currently in the driver’s seat waiting to take over if necessary. The company will also add more destinations, more vehicles, and change the service depending on feedback.
Yandex has a tough challenge ahead. A report from The Information this week by Amir Efrati noted that Waymo’s autonomous taxi service, backed by Google expertise and running in a relatively straightforward area, still finds itself running into trouble on a regular basis:
It may be a long journey, but Yandex could cement itself as among the first to bring autonomous taxis to Europe.