Yandex Blog

Ascend to the World’s Highest Peak through Yandex’s Everest Panorama Project

In 2016, the Yandex panoramic maps team undertook a major project with Toyota of Russia to create the world’s first ever panoramic climb up Mt. Everest to enable users to experience one of the world’s most challenging climbs and highest peak through a life-like experience. After two attempts at capturing images and a few years of physical and technical work, the team launched the Yandex Everest page, where people can experience the same climb mountaineers made from every existing Everest base camp.  The panoramic climb offers viewers an interactive movie-like experience up to the peak with commentary on the history and facts on Everest.

Our team committed to this project with a mission to expand users’ horizons by taking them on a journey most will never experience.  In attempts to reach their mission, our team members became an important part of the modern history of Mt.Everest.  In their first efforts to capture images from the summit, the team experienced and survived the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, later returning in 2016 even more inspired to make the climb and create the first panoramic trek up Everest.

We are proud to have achieved our mission and to have received such incredible feedback not only from users but also the design and Internet community.  We are excited to announce that the project is nominated for a 2018 Webby Award, the leading international award honoring excellence on the Internet.  Since the project was published, it was also a silver winner at the 2017 Epica Awards, a 2017 Red Dot Award winner in Communication Design, a 2017 Golden Drum finalist, a 2017 ADCE finalist, a 2017 ADCR 2017 gold and silver winner, and a 2016 Red Apple 2016 finalist.  

“We are incredibly honored and humbled to be nominated for the 2018 Webby and won several other awards over the past year amongst other inspiring work on the Internet,” says Anatoly Topol, Special Projects Director, “For us, it is especially gratifying to receive such positive feedback from the community because our journey to create the Yandex Everest Project was a truly demanding challenge that represents our passion for creating innovative experiences for users - even those that can seem impossible at times.”

We welcome you to join the millions of users who have taken the virtual climb up Everest on our project page and to cast your vote for the Webby Awards until April 19th, 2018.  

New AI Driver Identification System for Yandex.Taxi

Every day our ridesharing service Yandex.Taxi provides millions of rides to and from work, friends’ and families’ homes, classes, the gym, and many other locations.  This past January alone our thousands of drivers provided over 62 million rides to users of the service. While helping facilitate millions of rides, we are also committed to making each and every ride a positive experience for both our drivers and passengers. One of the most important aspects of providing a high-quality user experience is ensuring passenger safety.

As part of our continued commitment to safety, Yandex.Taxi recently began testing a two-step driver identification system powered by our computer vision and voice technologies that requires drivers to send a selfie and a recording of their voice through the app during each driving shift.  We developed the two-step driver identification system for the driver side application for Yandex.Taxi as an important safety check that not only verifies our drivers identity to ensure passenger safety but also serves to protect drivers’ data.

Yandex.Taxi drivers are prompted to take and submit a selfie in addition to recording themselves reading a provided text.  This data combination createss a unique key for each driver and verifies their identity with more than 90% accuracy.  After the driver is positively identified they are able to receive ride orders. 

If a driver’s appearance changes – say by weight change or facial hair growth – the algorithms automatically update and factor in differences in appearance while using historical data to confirm it is the same driver. Yandex’s SpeechKit voice technologies are also able to identify a driver when there is a variation in voice tone or pitch.

In addition to the verification of drivers, Yandex.Taxi routinely runs vehicle inspections by requiring drivers to send photos of both the interior and exterior of their cars.  We also welcome passenger feedback on the condition of the vehicle and interactions with drivers.  We consider excellent vehicle condition and cleanliness to also be important aspects of Yandex.Taxi’s commitment to ensuring passenger and driver safety.  

Yandex.Taxi is piloting the AI driver identification system in Russia and shortly, it will expand to all other countries in which our service operates.  Currently, drivers are asked to submit a selfie and record their voice periodically throughout their driving shift when they aren’t active on the roads. In the future, the system will operate at the start of each driver’s shift.

Yandex Browser Strengthens Cryptocurrency Mining Protection

Earlier this week, we announced (in Russian) that Yandex Browser strengthened its protection against cryptocurrency mining worldwide for desktop, iOS, and Android.  This Yandex Browser update automatically detects and blocks mining scripts that are embedded in websites to maliciously use a website visitor’s computing power to mine cryptocurrency.

As a browser provider for millions of users across the world, we have a responsibility to always maintain a safe and reliable product and to ensure a high-quality online browsing experience for users. Since the launch of Yandex Browser in 2012, we have continuously updated our product to protect our users against emerging threats on the Internet. 

Back in November 2017, we began our work to address rising issues with cryptocurrency mining by blocking identified mining scripts.  When a user visits a website with mining scripts, the scripts discreetly take the user’s desktop or smartphone computing power to mine cryptocurrency, resulting in high load on the CPU - up to 100%-  which makes devices slow down, consume more energy, and overheat.

Last Fall, the Browser team started to protect users against mining by blocking a compiled a list of mining scripts. However, almost every week new scripts appeared and the growing list required constant updates.

Now Yandex Browser automatically protects against mining scripts by analyzing the load on the user's CPU. This method automates the blocking of new scripts.

Yandex Browser analyzes the processor load while browsing and increased loads flag the site for potentially including a mining script. If an automated scan then confirms the presence of a mining script, Yandex Browser will automatically block the script. The website will continue to function for the user but miners will no longer be able to use the website visitors’ devices for mining.

Users can download Yandex Browser in the iOS or Android app stores.

March 8th 2018: Celebrating Women of the Past, Present, and Future

Throughout the world, people are celebrating International Women’s Day today to honor the achievements and importance of women globally.  Locally we are celebrating with a Russian public holiday, but throughout Yandex this week our team members recognized and appreciated the great work of women by sharing notes, cards, and flowers. 

As a company, this year we are also celebrating the holiday by commemorating women who have changed the world and their respective fields.  Today our search page includes a gallery that recognizes famous, accomplished women and their remarkable achievements that date back centuries and span across multiple countries.

The list focuses on female pioneers and bold first-time achievers such as Sofia Kovalevskaya, the first female math professor in the world, and Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. The list also appreciates female leaders such as Selma Lagerlöf, author and first female to win the Nobel Prize in literature and Ada Lovelace, mathematician and first female programmer.

These women plus many others have become role models and taught the world that we are all capable of outstanding feats.  We believe that everyone should grow to believe that he or she is capable of anything and also have access to education opportunities that will help reach their dreams – be it writing a book or writing code.

When it comes to those who dream of writing code and a future in the tech industry, it’s critical to raise the participation of women and provide the necessary educational foundation.  For Yandex, a major part of that is creating accessible education opportunities.  We are working towards making that possible through our education initiatives that range from online learning platforms and school programs to a free Master’s program in Data Science at the Yandex School of Data Analysis.

We spoke to a few Yandex women involved in our education initiatives to share their stories and vision for building the future through tech education.  Across Russia and with our female students and employees, it’s evident that a key part of their success and confidence in the field relates back to early exposure to educational opportunities and encouragement to study STEM for both sexes.

Sofiya Tehazeva, a program manager at Yandex School of Data Analysis with a background in competitive coding and teaching programming, talks about growing up in an encouraging environment and how this drives her to make a similar educational experience more accessible for others, “Both my parents enjoyed math and studied tech during their university years – physics, engineering and basic programming. Because of this, I was never scared of those fields and quickly became interested in math as soon as I started school. Later, programming and computer science became my main educational interests.”

She continues, “Participating in various summer schools, training camps and programming contests helped me find friends with similar interests. We had a lot of fun studying and learning together.” When it comes to her education she says, “I had very good teachers along the way who were very passionate about their fields and made educational experiences inspiring. Later I realized that not everyone gets to have an education half as great and enjoyable as mine. With this in mind,  I try to make education in tech more accessible to people in my country and hopefully the world.”

Lidia Perovskaya, a competitive programmer and Yandex Academic Program Manager, shares similar stories of young girls being encouraged by their parents to study math and thinks that studying STEM is one of the best ways to be part of the future. Lidia wants young women to recognize they are capable of anything, explaining that, “While opportunities are equal, we still see lower female participation in STEM programs. But despite having lower participation numbers, women’s performance proves just as high. For example, in the Russian delegation to International Olympiad in Informatics many girls placed within the medals range (gold is the top 25%, silver is the top 40%, and bronze is the top 55 %) and won national olympiads. Nothing is impossible, though sometimes it takes time to believe.”

Lidia also adds how great it is to see female coding contestants ranking highly in competitions and looks forward to seeing more high ranking females during the ongoing 2018 Yandex.Algorithm competition and upcoming Q.E.D competition.  At Yandex over one-third of our employees are women, some having joined us after participating in our education programs. We are seeing more women join the field over time, as exemplified by the growing number of female graduates from the Yandex School of Data Analysis, which started at four in the first class in 2009 and grew to 20 female graduates in our most recent class.

We hope to see more girls take advantage of educational opportunities and more women joining the industry.  Happy International Women’s Day to all women!

Yandex.Taxi’s Self-Driving Car Conducts Winter Testing on Moscow’s Public Streets

Last week the Yandex.Taxi driverless car team passed another major milestone on our mission to achieve a level 5 self-driving car, which began with the May 2017 prototype launch.  The Yandex.Taxi autonomous car safely navigated the streets of Moscow after a recent snowstorm managing interactions with traffic, pedestrians, parked vehicles and other road hazards on snowy and icy streets. The drive, which occurred during light precipitation and -6 C (21 F) temperatures, was an advanced test challenging the vehicle with winter weather conditions on public roads.

Over the last few months the team has been testing prototypes in winter weather conditions on a closed course near Moscow.  In December 2017, the team debuted the car on public roads and began collecting data during public street testing to further advance Yandex’s driverless technology.

Navigating snow-covered city streets requires significant amounts of data including images of both the snowy roads and street signs.  Moscow offers our team a great testing ground for our self-driving car, challenging it with both high traffic volumes and diverse weather and seasonal changes.  

Our journey with our self-driving car began less than a year ago on closed testing grounds and dry weather conditions. Today we are excited to have advanced our technology to safely navigate the challenges of public streets and winter weather.

We will continue to test our self-driving cars on public roads, collecting more data to make our technology smarter and more reliable. It’s our goal to expand our capabilities to create a universally applicable technology that manages all road challenges and weather conditions. 

Yandex’s Seventh Annual Programming Competition Yandex.Algorithm Starts This Week

Since 2011 Yandex has been running a programming competition, Yandex.Algorithm, to challenge competitive coders and advance the machine learning community. Yandex.Algorithm welcomes coding contestants from around the world to enter up to three tracks of the 2018 competition: algorithm track, optimization track, and ML track. 

Each track was designed to test contestants with a variety of problem solving tasks. Historically, Yandex.Algorithm has focused on the algorithm track but last year it included more diverse problems such as optimization tasks.  Following positive feedback from the community on these changes, we designed the Yandex.Algorithm 2018 competition to include optimization and machine learning problems within separate applied science tracks.

The algorithm track is designed to follow its traditional format in which submitted solutions are run against test cases. The optimization track was developed with the help of our search algorithm engineers and our autonomous vehicle team members to require a multitude of creative approaches rather than a single solution. The optimization track answers will be evaluated and awarded points based on the test performances of submitted solutions. The machine learning track tasks require contestants to create models, which will be evaluated based on how well specified parameters can be predicted using the models.

Yandex.Algorithm contestants are competing to advance their programming capabilities in addition to cash prizes.  The winner of the algorithmic track will take home approximately a $5000 cash prize and the second and third place winners will receive $2600 and $1600 respectively.  The winners in the other two categories will each receive approximately $1800 and runners up in these new tracks will also be awarded cash prizes as well.  Over 500 of the top performing participants will receive a Yandex.Algorithm t-shirt.

The three tracks will run consecutively in order to give all participants the opportunity to try their hand at solving every type of a problem in the Yandex.Algorithm 2018 competition. The first qualification round for the algorithmic track will take place on February 17th. The 25 best performers in the three qualifying rounds of the algorithmic track will be invited to Saint Petersburg on May 19th for the finals.  The optimization track and the machine learning track will run online competitions starting in March.

Interested programmers can register and find all relevant information for Yandex.Algorithm in both English and Russian on the competition website.  Congratulations to the 2017 winner, Gennady Korotkevich, a Belarusian information technology student from Saint Petersburg, who has won the top Yandex.Algorithm prize four times! Good luck to all of the 2018 participants!

Yandex Improves Browsing Experience With Native Ad Blocking in Yandex Browser

At Yandex our mission is to help consumers and businesses better navigate the online and offline world.  And when it comes to digital advertising this means working to make the Internet a place where users have enjoyable high-quality experiences and businesses can reach their audiences in effective ways.

As part of this work, today Yandex introduced native ad blocking in the Russian version of Yandex Browser to enhance users’ browsing experience by filtering intrusive advertising. The latest browser update includes a built-in ad blocker that prevents annoying or disruptive ads from loading when a page is displayed to the user. The built-in ad blocker is activated by default both in the desktop and mobile versions of Yandex Browser but can be deactivated in the settings.

Yandex Browser now blocks full-screen banner ads, pop-ups with a countdown timer, autoplay video ads and other formats of unwanted advertising, or those that do not comply with new advertising guidelines announced by the Russian branch of the Interactive Advertising Bureau (IAB) last month. Relevant ads in non-intrusive, organic formats will still be displayed to the user. 

Organizations like IAB Russia have worked to better understand which forms of advertising are hindering users’ online experience by conducting consumer driven research.  As an active member of IAB Russia, we value and support their work towards understanding what users want and developing higher quality advertising that leads to a beneficial experience for both users and publishers.

“At Yandex we believe in building an enjoyable online experience in which people are delivered helpful information. Aggressive advertising interferes with a high-quality user experience and has led to increased ad blocker downloads, which can block potentially useful offers and information to users,” says Dmitry Timko, head of Yandex Browser. “Native ad blocking eliminates the need for additional ad blockers and promotes better quality advertising.”

Yandex Browser has long been committed to delivering high-quality user experiences and protecting web audiences. In 2014, Yandex Browser integrated built-in Antishock technology that blocks malicious and fraudulent advertising. In 2016, Yandex Browser started offering users comprehensive fraud protection against the majority of online threats through Protect,  a built-in cyber security system. Protect automatically checks all downloaded files for viruses, warns users about dangerous websites, protects users’ passwords when using public networks, and ensures safe payments.

In order to help publishers and advertisers continue to create effective ads and follow the new guidelines, we introduced a ‘Diagnostics’ tool available on the Yandex.Webmaster service, where publishers and advertisers can check if their advertising is compliant with Yandex standards.

As the provider of the second most popular browser in Russia and a member of IAB Russia, today is an important day for advancements in digital advertising for Yandex and the entire RuNet.

Yandex Partners with Tel Aviv University to Enhance AI Education

Yandex is thrilled to partner with Tel Aviv University (TAU) to create the Yandex Machine Learning Initiative and open the sixth branch of the Yandex School of Data Analysis (YSDA), where a new career advancement program will be offered.

From digital learning platforms to our master’s program, Yandex has led several major education initiatives to improve the development and impact of AI in both academia and the private sector over the last decade. Our new partnership with TAU marks a key step in expanding our machine learning education and innovation programs to one of the world’s leading tech centers.

Today the tech community in Israel hosts many of the top startups creating innovative products and services that are shaping the future of AI globally.  As the largest university in Israel, TAU plays a critical role in the development of both the local and global tech community. The team at TAU provides a world-class computer science education and shares our vision to enhance the global AI ecosystem by creating more experts and innovators in the field.  Yandex CEO, Arkady Volozh, who spearheaded the partnership explains, “It’s our goal to not only ensure education in AI continues to grow the global community but also to keep challenging and advancing our ability to shape the future of AI.”  

The Yandex Machine Learning Initiative will be run through TAU’s Blavatnik School of Computer Science as part of the BSc Program in Computer Science. The program will introduce a cluster of courses that will focus on machine learning, deep learning, natural language processing, computer vision and robotics.

The majority of the initiative will be dedicated to expanding opportunities for students through Yandex Fellowships, which will award scholarships to the brightest students at the master’s, doctoral, and post-doctoral level.  As part of the initiative, the Yandex International Distinguished Lecture Series in Machine Learning will enhance collaboration by bringing experts from around the world to TAU to give lectures and conduct research with TAU faculty.  Furthermore, the Yandex Initiative will also support new faculty recruitment and the acquisition of state-of-the-art equipment to enhance the program.

In addition to the Yandex Machine Learning Initiative at the university, TAU will become the sixth campus location of the Yandex School of Data Analysis (YSDA), where YSDA will launch a one-year career advancement program for the first time.  For over ten years now, YSDA has been offering a master’s level program in Computer Science and Data Analysis that challenges students with two vigorous years of training from top experts in the most advanced data science topics.  To date, over 600 YSDA graduates have brought their understanding of theoretical foundations and hands-on experience at YSDA to academia and leading technology companies around the world. 

While the majority of YSDA graduates have gone on to work at companies like Yandex, Microsoft, and Apple, the future of AI is not limited to tech companies and academia but will continue to expand into a wide range of industries and businesses where machine learning experts are in growing demand.  In recognition of the increasing need for skilled AI professionals, the YSDA faculty is designing a new one-year machine learning career advancement program for students and professionals that will be offered at the new TAU location.  The new program aims at serving students with diverse academic and professional backgrounds who can apply their machine learning expertise across many industries.

We are excited about the work ahead in 2018 and the opportunity to help educate the next generation of AI experts who will be innovating for years to come.  Last week the Yandex TAU partnership kicked off with a ceremony in which Yandex CEO, Arkady Volozh signed the agreement for the initiative with TAU President Joseph Klafter.  

A Grateful Look Back at 2017

Open letter from Arkady Volozh, CEO of Yandex

2017 was an outstanding year for Yandex. Our team made significant  strides in advancing the ways we help our millions of users more easily and efficiently navigate the online and offline world. In this post, I want to highlight some of our accomplishments over the past year.  I also want to express my gratitude to the truly impressive team that made 2017 such an incredible year for Yandex.

This year, as we celebrated our 20th anniversary, we delivered significant advancements in AI that are a culmination of two decades of work in machine learning.  In 2017 we launched our Machine Intelligence and Research (MIR) division, a new cross-functional unit that has unified our core machine learning technologies. MIR enhanced and launched several intelligent products and services, including the initiative to open-source CatBoost, an award-winning machine learning library that has seen significant adoption with thought leaders in the global AI community.  I want to thank all of our team members who contributed to AI enhancements on products such as our core Search product, Yandex.Zen, Yandex.Weather, Yandex.Music, and Yandex.Translate.

I am proud of all of the talented men and women who work at Yandex and their contributions to the field of machine learning. This year the Yandex School of Data Analysis celebrated its 10th anniversary of educating the next generation of data scientists in Russia through a free Master’s level program taught by top experts in the fields of Computer Science and Data Analysis. 

Our work here at Yandex has led us to many important achievements that not only impact the experiences of our users but also advancements in the global technology community. This year we were excited to introduce our intelligent assistant, Alice, which represents the next generation of search and is the only mass-market assistant in the world able to freely converse with its users. This year we also made strides in advancing the future of ridesharing.  The Yandex.Taxi team launched its driverless technology with the debut and successful testing of its autonomous vehicle.  Autonomous vehicles will transform the economics of the ridesharing ecosystem and we are proud to be leaders in the space.

2017 represents a transformational year of growth for Yandex in the transportation industry.  Our Yandex.Taxi business continues to revolutionize transportation with faster, cleaner and more expansive services for our users in 300+ cities across multiple markets.  Yandex.Taxi has provided over 335 million rides from its launch through the end of September 2017.  In July, we announced a deal valued at $3.4B in which Yandex.Taxi and Uber’s local ridesharing business will be combined in Russia and neighboring states to offer an even better and more efficient services for our users. 

This year we also launched Yandex.Auto, a multifunctional voice-controlled solution for connected car multimedia systems that incorporates Yandex solutions into the dashboards of cars produced by Toyota, Jaguar Land Rover, AvtoVaz, Ford and Kamaz.

As we look ahead to 2018, we are also excited about this year’s joint venture plans with Sberbank to build an end-to-end eCommerce marketplace for Russian online shoppers.  In the coming years, Sberbank’s $500M contribution will enable us to rapidly accelerate the development of our leading eCommerce platform, Yandex.Market, which provides 20 million monthly users with 150 million product offerings from over 20,000 domestic and international merchants.

And as I wrote back in April, users and the technology community have a lot to appreciate in 2017 and to look forward to in the years ahead now that Android offers a truly open platform for all application developers in Russia. For the first time, 55 million Russian Android users were given a choice of search engines on their mobile devices this year.  Moving forward, all new Android smartphones in Russia will prompt consumers to choose which search engine they would like to use on their devices.  This has led to a more dynamic and competitive ecosystem that breeds innovation and opportunities. Innovation of our mobile search offerings and the opening of this ecosystem has led to a 10 percentage point increase in Yandex market share on Android devices in 2017. 

Looking back at these accomplishments, I’m in awe of the year we’ve had and I am humbled by the talent and drive within our organization that has made this progress possible.  This year we have not only improved upon many of our existing services but we have explored new ways we can help our communities through new initiatives like our Yandex.Health telemedicine offerings or our digital learning platform for early education

I want to thank our team for all their hard work this year and our users for choosing Yandex.  I’m eager to build on our momentum in 2018 and continue to innovate and improve the exceptional experiences we offer users at every step of their journeys. By combining technological innovation with best-in-class products and services, there is no limit to what Yandex and its users can achieve in the new year.

Happy New Year!

Arkady

2017 Yandex Top Trending Search Topics in Russia

As the leading search engine in Russia, everyday Yandex provides results to over 250 million user queries. At the end of the year our research team compiles these queries and analyzes them to publish a list of the year’s top search trends.  Usually we don’t publish this in English but since we heard the world was wondering what makes the average Russian laugh, cry, and pay attention, we thought we’d translate their research to English this year.  

While these categories don’t cover everything, it gives us a great picture of what united Yandex users throughout 2017.  Although it’s our job to provide information, we connect with it too.  As our world has become increasingly intertwined through the power of technology, you may find that from your phone or laptop thousands of miles away from Russia, you too searched for similar topics in 2017 and can relate to this list. 

The very top of the first category “Events” starts with one of the more difficult moments of the year that united us - a deadly terror attack in a Saint Petersburg metro station.  Events such as these create concern but ultimately bring us together as a community.  That week people came together such as offering their homes to those in need and at Yandex we were glad to be among those helping by providing free Yandex.Taxi rides.

When it comes to the categories of “Men” and “Women,” Yandex users searched for a number of local and international celebrities, taking interest in their lives, such as the beloved Eurovision star, Dima Bilan and opera singer, Maria Masksakova. As for the  “Things and Phenomena” category, cryptocurrencies, fidget spinners, and the iPhone X proved to be just as popular in Russia as they were elsewhere.  

In the same category, we were pretty humbled to see our intelligent assistant, Alice, make waves with Yandex users after its mid-October launch this year.  Not only has Alice gained popularity for being useful but also for being sassy and entertaining. Thanks to all our users for appreciating our unpredictable robot and sharing your interactions.

It wasn’t a major surprise to see the Ice Hockey World Championship topping the “Sports” category in 2017. Fans searched for information on hockey, football, and the McGregor Mayweather fight among other sporting events. 

For users who weren’t watching sports or were in between sporting events, they were looking up movie times to go see It and Despicable Me 3 among others.  And when at home, of course, our users were watching Game of Thrones and other popular shows.  Before the premier of season seven in July, we actually had the privilege of giving Jon Snow a Yandex.Taxi ride among our millions of other rides in 2017 (passengers don’t usually ride shotgun or carry swords but we made an exception). 

Last but certainly not least, is our category on “Memes,” which these days some would argue includes some of the most valued content on the internet.   Once again, our list of memes proves we can all appreciate a good laugh and there’s always that one viral trend we enjoy.  This year Yandex users appreciated a solid list of memes, including “Zhdun” or “the one who waits” all over the place, including at our office in Moscow. 

Thanks to our users’ queries and also to our new and improved deep neural network based search platform, we continue to provide users with the quality service they have known and loved for two decades.  Thanks to our millions of users for turning to Yandex in 2017 to navigate their daily lives, we look forward to 2018!

For more comprehensive version of this research in Russian, please visit our research page.