Yandex selects Michigan as testing base for self-driving program

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Russian tech company Yandex has chosen Ann Arbor, Michigan, as a base for testing its autonomous car technology as it presses ahead with plans to develop a self-driving car for the US market.

Yandex operates a ridesharing service in the Russian cities Moscow and Innopolis, and also has a testing footprint in Tel Aviv, Israel. The company has previously carried out self-driving vehicle tests in Las Vegas, and had planned to pilot a ridesharing service in Detroit earlier this year, as an extension of the North American International Auto Show, but this was put on hold due to Covid-19 affecting events worldwide. This deployment in Ann Arbor comes as a direct consequence, with Yandex seeking a longer-term testing strategy for its American program.

The company selected the Michigan town because it is one of few locations in the world that allows self-driving cars to operate without a human being sat in the driver’s seat. Michigan also permits the testing of cars without a steering wheel or pedals. The region is a hotbed for autonomous vehicle development, with many OEMs and research companies setting up in and around Ann Arbor.

Yandex’s self-driving cars are already roaming city streets in Michigan, including Hyundai Sonatas, the company’s fourth-generation autonomous vehicles created in partnership with Hyundai Mobis. The company also operates a fleet of around 100 autonomous Toyota Prius cars in Russia.

Dmitry Polishchuk, head of Yandex Self-Driving Cars, said, “We are trying to use our testing locations to the fullest. For example, Innopolis is the only testing location in Russia that allows self-driving cars to transport passengers without regulations requiring that an engineer be present behind the driver’s wheel.

“This is where we launched Europe’s first robotaxi service two years ago and, since then, have made thousands of trips without a driver behind the wheel. Ann Arbor, with its bigger size and more progressive regulatory environment, will enable us to take this experience a step further.”

Yandex says that its goal has always been to create a technology that will be used to accomplish different transportation and logistical tasks globally, in varying road and weather conditions, so it will look to continue expanding outside of Russia to include new environments.

Much like global tech giant Google, Yandex began as a search engine operator in Russia and has continually evolved to branch out into other areas of technology innovation.

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