“Tel Aviv is not easy to drive”. Israeli taxi drivers, who have a lot of experience driving in major cities worldwide, including new York and London, talking about it with one voice.
Bicycles, motorcycles and Segways randomly speeding down the highway. The town is now under construction metro and monorail. Chaos on the streets in tel Aviv and in the morning and evening rush hours and lunch.
Few people know that in this city there goes the Autonomous vehicle. The owner of this car — the Russian IT giant Yandex, the largest search engine in the Russian market, founded in 1997 and is known as the Russian version of Google.
Now it is the only company to receive approval for participation in the pilot program of Autonomous driving on roads and highways of tel Aviv. Car “Yandex” night and day follows a specific route. Toyota Prius is equipped with a LiDAR sensor from Velodyne, and in the driver’s seat the driver sits. This machine is easy to confuse with cars in the Google Map Street Views. But her body says “unmanned vehicle Yandex”.
55-year-old Arkady Volozh, co-founder and CEO, calm and confident smiles. Dressed in a white t-shirt “Yandex” and jeans, he jokes that, although “Yandex” was founded before Google, he’s still known as “Russian Google”. Volozh enthusiastically told us about his philosophy, the development of unmanned machines and the learning process.
Russia’s largest search engine, known as the “Russian Google”, recently began to penetrate into other sectors.
I would rather call “Yandex” the “Russian Silicon valley”. We are actively involved in everything. We create in Russia the ecosystem, working on online and offline markets. From the point of view of free competition in markets, and some local players ahead of an international company. We’re one of them, and our weapons technology. From the very beginning of our business we relied on machine learning that was used for search, recommendations, development of technologies of transformation of behavior and computer vision.
When you have developed the technology to create new products and services are already easier. So there was a “Yandex. Taxi” Yango, “Yandex. Music” and “Yandex. Zen”.
And the development of an unmanned vehicle, which is now being tested in tel Aviv, began in 2016, and demonstration experiments took place in December 2017.
This is what I think of a driverless car: there are too many advanced technologies. A few companies, like us, perform demonstration experiments on the road in countries such as Russia, USA and Israel. Computer vision, machine learning, and applications with maps. Thanks to our technology we managed to create prototypes that are so quick to go on the road, using the products of other companies.
I didn’t do anything from scratch. Infrastructure existed from the beginning. We just chose the developers in each Department, gave them new responsibilities and combine them with already existing products. Of course, we have been busy with work but managed to finish in almost two years. I think we have saved from five to ten years.
There are prospects of commercialization in the future?
We are already ready. The volume of production has increased, and on the roads this year will be more than hundreds of cars. This streamlined process. In any case, the application “Yandex. Taxi” the largest number of users in the region. What if we managed to do all of these offline machines? This is a huge potential for business. Therefore, we develop a machine with automanagement. Second, we hope to sell the technology to create unmanned vehicles to other automakers, with the participation of our partners, such as Hyundai Mobis in South Korea. It would be nice to cooperate with Japanese manufacturers, the best in the world. At least I hope so.
Not all, but many IT companies keep their designs secret, and Yandex tells about the unmanned machines and cooperating with other companies. There is a particular philosophy?
I think IT companies that focus on big data and machine learning, are quite open. The fact is that machine learning itself is a science, based on academic studies and articles. Every day publishes articles about some new approach, engineers can use these ideas in their products. Machine learning is still an open field, talking about it, people from different companies. Perhaps they are more open to dialogue than in other industries. At the largest conference on machine learning (like NIPS) educational institutions, as well as people from Google, Microsoft, Apple, Amazon, Yandex and Baidu actively exchange opinions.
There is something in common among companies working in machine learning?
I think that IT companies tend to think of secrecy, out of shyness engineers. Many engineers are introverts and rather shy. They don’t want to create hype over something that is not done yet. And “Yandex”. When asked about future projects, we always say: “We are afraid to jinx the future product and not talking about it.”
We always carry out repeated experiments. A successful product of “Yandex” is one successful experiment out of ten and the other nine go the distance. That’s why we could not achieve success if you would have announced new products in advance.
How do you define “Yandex”?
It is a company driven by technology. We develop consumer products based on advanced technologies. We give latest technology product form.
Technology is the starting point?
It all starts with technology. What today seems a miracle, really just technology, just people don’t know about how it works. Whether it’s machine translation or automated operation — it’s just the mathematical theory and the work of engineers. That’s created modern magic.
“Yandex” is widely known in the IT-industry in Russia, but it is little heard of in Japan and other countries. Why are you now coming on the market search services taxi and unmanned vehicles?
We are trying to expand market presence by using technology appropriate for each region. It is important that we in Russia have created a whole ecosystem of different products. It helps a lot. Too expensive to enter the market where there are already many leading companies. So online and offline products that we launched in Russia, are very helpful in the launch of products in new markets. It is easier and faster. That’s why we tend to focus on our core business in the Russian market.
Some of the technologies that we have developed have great potential. We believe they may be useful for global companies due to its superiority and uniqueness. The value of “Yandex” proven in the Russian market. But our main goal is to build a global Russian IT brand. As Japan is now known all over the world with cars, and France — the wines and Russian, I hope, will be a source of products based on advanced technologies that can be used worldwide.
As the CEO of what areas you want to work in the medium and long term?
Unmanned vehicles seem to me the most promising area. Of course, tomorrow the situation may change. No one knows when and what technologies will come into play (laughs). I am sure that now it is unmanned vehicles.
Another area is education. Since 2007 a School of data analysis “Yandex”, free online course, which allows you to study the theory of machine learning at an advanced level. And in 2018, the school works in tel Aviv.
I think we can at the global level to apply the standards of mathematical education, which are learnt by Russian children. To train good engineers and programmers have a great many people with excellent mathematical education. Of course, some educational methods need to change depending on countries. Take even addition: in one country talking about apples, the other — about bananas (laughs). Russia has produced many talented mathematicians. Introducing the Russian system in other countries, you can find new mathematical talents. Then there will be one global Russian service.
But I won’t you to promise (laughs). It’s just a possibility.
Translation Natalia Balabanchevo
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