Technology company Yandex has announced the launch of a self-driving ride-hailing service, Yandex.Taxi, which it claims to be the first of its kind in Europe.
Yandex vehicles will start by providing lifts to passengers in the university city campus of Innopolis, Russia.
Free trial combines Telegram chatbot, safety drivers and set destinations
Yandex appears to be following in the tracks of Waymo, BMW, and others, by starting off tests in a closed, self-contained environment.
In a blog post outlining the trials, the company explains that city residents will be able to order rides to a number of set destinations, including the main university buildings, a nearby stadium, residential blocks, and the local business centre.
Approximately 100 passengers are lined up to participate in the testing. They will receive links to order rides through the Telegram chatbot.
The average ride will be around 1.25 miles in one of two Toyota Prius models. The cars have been bolstered with Yandex technology that enables them to detect objects with claimed centimetre precision and compare the immediate environment against preloaded maps.
Founded in 2015, the new city of Innopolis has been designed to support high-tech industry and complement the university’s specialism in emerging technologies. As such, Yandex believes it offers “a great urban environment to take the next significant step in publicly testing our self-driving cars”.
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The move to trial the service in Innopolis represents the next step of Yandex’s ambition to launch self-driving taxi services in major cities across Russia.
To begin with, Yandex’s self-driving vehicles will run with a safety engineer in the passenger seat. In time, the service will expand to include more destinations and additional vehicles, before the company removes the safety driver from the equation completely.
That final hurdle, though, will depend on the results of testing and the attitudes of regulators.
“We’ve received very positive reactions so far both from passengers and pedestrians,” Artem Fokin, head of business development at Yandex Taxi Self-Driving told ZDNet.
“We plan to move from testing to the commercial phase as soon as legislation allows us to do so. In the future, we plan to provide a full-scale autonomous ride-hailing service in other cities in Russia.”