When Russia's Yandex revealed that it, too, was working on self-driving cars, it was hard not to be a bit skeptical. Wouldn't it be well behind American counterparts with a years-long head start, like Waymo? Clearly, it's making up for lost time: Yandex (or specifically, its on-demand service Yandex.Taxi) has unveiled a prototype self-driving car. The heavily modified Toyota Prius V touts loads of sensors, AI and "proprietary computing algorithms" that can help it navigate around traffic and tricky obstacles. The demo video below doesn't show any mind-blowing concepts, but that's really the point -- Yandex is showing that it already has a functional machine.
The experimental car is limited to closed-circuit driving right now, but public tests are expected in 2018.
It's not shocking that Yandex would rush into the autonomous vehicle game. Russia is more than a little eager to reduce its dependence on foreign technology, and that's bound to include self-driving cars. The question is whether or not Yandex can move quickly after this. It doesn't need to offer a full-fledged transportation service at the same time as rivals like Waymo, but it also doesn't want to risk seeming perpetually behind. Still, this is good news -- it shows that driverless cars are rapidly gathering support around the globe. Don't be surprised if you're hailing a robotic ride if you visit Moscow in the coming years.