Yandex Blog

Yet another Conversation 2020: Yandex Talks About What Matters and How It All Works

This year, Yet another Conference (YaC), our annual corporate conference on technology and innovation, has become “Yet another Conversation” — a virtual event that combines the presentation of our latest products and technologies with an open and candid conversation about our culture and values. The heads of key Yandex services talk about the thought process behind their products, discuss their plans and aspirations, and show what they have accomplished over the past year. They also discuss the challenges they have faced and how they managed to overcome them.

Some of the topics that we address include: recent developments in the driverless world, opportunities and challenges in delivery logistics created by the pandemic, and the latest capabilities of Yandex's core search technologies. 

Tigran Khudaverdyan, the Deputy CEO of Yandex, sat down with the well-known journalist and blogger Alexey Pivovarov to weave these stories together and to reflect on how Yandex has fared during the pandemic.

One of the highlights of YaC 2020 is YATI (Yet Another Transformer with Improvements) — a neural network based on the Transformer architecture, which allows us to evaluate semantic relationships between user queries and the content of web documents. Transformer architecture has several key advantages — it works not only with short texts, such as queries or article titles, but also with longreads. YATI is able to identify the most significant sections of a text and take that into account while delivering search results. YATI is also able to “understand” the relevant context, such as the sequence of words and how words affect each other. Overall, YATI is several million times more complex than our previous generation neural network and is one of the biggest updates to our core search technology in the last ten years.

At YaC 2020 we also presented a new addition to our family of smart speakers with the built-in intelligent voice assistant “Alice”. The new Yandex Station Max is the most powerful smart speaker produced by Yandex to date. It features advanced Dolby Audio technology for a perfect audio experience, 4K HDR for streaming films in crystal clear quality, and an interactive LED screen to visually augment Alice's replies.

Yandex Station Max has five speakers producing a total of 65W of power. Multiroom technology allows this device to be connected to other Yandex smart speakers, creating a continuous soundscape in your home.

Other new Yandex services highlighted at YaC 2020 include one-click delivery of Yandex Market purchases via Yandex Go, new features in the Yandex.Fuel app, an updated Yandex Search app with a personalized feed and new opportunities for our e-commerce partners in Yandex search. 

Watch YaC 2020 on YouTube.

Registration is Now Open for Yandex Cup – Yandex’s International Championship in Competitive Programming

Yandex’s third annual competitive programming event, Yandex Cup, will take place from October 19th to November 7th this year. This event will include tracks in front-end development, back-end development, mobile development, analytics, machine learning, as well as an olympiad programming track, formerly known as Yandex.Algorithm

Registration is open until October 25th on the Yandex Cup website. Sign up today! 

This year’s event is aimed at professional and advanced programmers over the age of 18 living in Russia or a CIS country. These eligible participants will be competing for prizes totaling 3.3 million rubles ($45,000). The competition’s Algorithm track is open to international participants over 18 years old. 

The tasks for Yandex Cup are unconventional, as they always are. They have been created by leading Yandex experts who develop core services such as search, self-driving vehicles, and ecommerce systems. Yandex’s programming competition is designed to challenge even the most advanced programmers, however, some of the tasks will be designed to allow beginners to also participate. 

The trial round, which will give participants a chance to familiarize themselves with the competition and its rating system, will start on September 21st and will last until October 18th. The main competition will begin with qualification rounds on October 19th and will last until October 25th, with finals scheduled for November 7th. Contestants can choose to participate in multiple tracks in the trial and qualification rounds, but the finals will be limited to participating in only one track. An online awards ceremony will take place on November 21st.

Yandex Cup was launched two years ago as an annual international programming competition. It had 9,129 participants in its first year and 12,500 in its second. Yandex has a strong tradition supporting competitive programming, including starting Yandex.Algorithm in 2011, as well as software development contests Yandex.Blitz and Yandex Programming Championship, all of which are now part of Yandex Cup. 

Join Yandex Cup 2020 to win cash prizes and find your place among some of the best programmers on this planet! 

Turkish Digital Music Hackathon Helps Spur Innovation in Yandex Music

At the end of July, Yandex Music sponsored the Online Music Hackathon. The event was hosted by one of Turkey’s most innovative universities, Özyeğin University, and saw more than 50 current and former students develop creative predictions for the future direction of how we will consume and find music online. Experienced Yandex team leads, project managers and products owners both mentored the students through the hackathon and judged the highly innovative prototypes they produced.   

The Online Music Hackathon focused on social music discovery and interaction, brought together engineering, marketing, business, social science, architecture, and design students and graduates spend 72 hours developing their ideas into practical solutions. With the help of Yandex mentors, each of the 13 participating teams delivered an exciting product concept ready for further testing and validation in real life. 

This hackathon allowed me to understand how broad the music industry actually is, and also made me think it would be enjoyable to shape my design career through music. – Kumsal Kurt, Faculty of Architecture and Design, Department of Industrial Design, Özyeğin University

Özyeğin University, a young and vibrant research university with a strong focus on engineering and modern technology, was a natural partner for Yandex. In addition to meeting many talented and passionate individuals and creating boundary-pushing products, Yandex gained valuable local perspectives on the future of online music discovery and found new opportunities for further innovation and collaboration with a community of impressive young professionals. 

The winning team demonstrated their knowledge and talent by developing a prototype for how music streaming can be combined with users' location to provide new ways to discover music and interact with others. The two runners-up created a novel way of sharing music with friends, and innovatively described a social listening experience that could be shared with others in real time. Two additional projects worthy of special mention included a solution for discovering and supporting local independent musicians and a game-like app for sharing and finding music based on location. 

“The Online Music Hackathon by Yandex was an amazing opportunity for our students, especially during these difficult times. Bringing our alumni into the competition brought additional perspectives to the event. We are proud that Özyeğin University was selected to host this hackathon that connected our students and alumni with Yandex experts. It was a great learning experience for all participants. We look forward to further partnership opportunities with Yandex,” says Melda Çakıcı Alpaydın, Director of Sectoral Education & Professional Development at Özyeğin University.

“Open innovation and collaborative product prototyping with external communities are required to create relevant digital services. This is especially important when operating in global markets. Thanks to Özyeğin University, we have established a great R&D collaboration between Yandex and the extremely talented students and graduates in Turkey. This will help us innovate our existing products and create new meaningful experiences for music lovers across different cultures,” says Aleksas Drozdovskis, Chief Strategy Officer and Global Product R&D, Yandex Media Services.

Yandex Music has always been committed to staying ahead of the curve. Launched 10 years ago, Russia's most popular audio streaming service is now available in 14 countries and makes personalized recommendations of its 65 million music tracks and 100,000 podcast episodes to its 20 million users per month.

The Ilya Segalovich Award Celebrates Outstanding Talent in Computer Science

The annual Ilya Segalovich Award ceremony took place for the second time, this time – online. The award, established by Yandex last year in honor of the legacy of one of its co-founders Ilya Segalovich, celebrates special achievement in computer science and related fields, and is awarded to young researchers and academics working in Russia, Kazakhstan or Belarus. 

Last year's award was shared among 13 winners, including nine graduate and postgraduate students and four academics, who pushed the boundaries in their respective fields. Their scope of study ranged from detecting plant disease using computer vision and video object tracking, to detecting emotional subtleties in text and creating automated translation algorithms for rare languages.  

This year the total sum of 15 million rubles ($210,000) was awarded to three academics and nine young researchers. Their work focused on problems in 3D computer vision and video generation, stochastic optimization, deep learning, reinforcement learning, positive-unlabeled learning, generative adversarial networks, Bayesian deep learning, representation learning, multilinear algebra and exploratory search. 

“Yandex’s products and technologies have always been driven by science. Applied research, however, is not the only center of our attention. We are deeply interested in theoretical research, as well. This is what drives the entire IT industry and can lead to impressive future results,” says Mikhail Bilenko, head of Machine Learning Research at Yandex. “We established the Ilya Segalovich Award to support graduates and postgraduates working in machine learning and other promising areas of computer science. Talented students often have to leave their studies for the sake of an early career. We would love to give them an opportunity to continue their fundamental research.”

We have always relied on world-class research to develop our products and technologies. A number of leading scientists have been a part of the Yandex team or collaborated with Yandex in various capacities at different points in time. The Ilya Segalovich Award Committee includes top Yandex executives as well as leading scientists, such as Ilya Muchnik, Professor at Rutgers University and Academic Director of the Yandex School of Data Analysis, Stanislav Smirnov, a Fields Medal laureate and Professor at the University of Geneva, and Alexei Efros, Associate Professor at UC Berkeley. 

The Ilya Segalovich Award, along with the eponymous scholarship for computer science at Moscow’s Higher School of Economics, is part of Yandex's commitment to support fundamental research and professional development, including through its Educational Initiative, a multimillion dollar investment program for educational projects and services. 

With over 30 educational projects and services currently offered by Yandex, the company has a strong tradition supporting educational initiatives and partnering with the leading universities in Russia and other countries. We have been nurturing exceptional talent in mathematics, data science and related fields through our School of Data Analysis in Moscow and other locations in Russia since 2007, and through its branch, Y-Data, in Tel Aviv and Beer-Sheva. Last year we launched Russia’s first online English-language master’s program in data science in partnership with Coursera, based on the Computer Science Faculty at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow. 

We will continue to support people who are passionate about what they do, especially when they do it for the benefit of others. 

Yandex Reveals Plans for New Headquarters in Moscow

As life is gradually coming back to normal, we are now announcing the project of our new Moscow home. 

Located south of the city center on the current site of the Korston hotel, the Yandex headquarters will become a new local landmark, with its unusual silhouette, titanium-plated facade, and a publicly accessible covered atrium connecting the building with its surroundings.

The area around the building, as well as the first two floors with cafes, pharmacies, beauty salons and other businesses, will be open to the public. Public spaces around the office will offer an opportunity to relax, eat, or exercise. Yandex will also re-develop an area near its headquarters, creating a green park that connects the Akademik Zelinsky Street with Akademik Zeldovich Street.

The new Yandex home will be technically advanced and at the same time comfortable to work in. From the start, the building will be designed to easily accommodate both regular office workers and those remote workers who only visit the office occasionally. Lots of compact meeting rooms around the office will be perfect for meetings with colleagues who work remotely. The new office will also feature cafes, canteens, coffee shops, a gym, a basketball court, squash courts, as well as a swimming pool and a spacious roof terrace.

In addition to being a home to company employees and a comfortable public space for local residents, the new Yandex headquarters will also become a large educational hub with presentation rooms, classrooms, a lecture hall and a computer technology museum. Yandex will use its facilities to organize public lectures, master classes and presentations.

The new headquarters will match the local architecture. It will be of approximately the same overall height as the current Korston hotel, while the wings closest to nearby residential buildings will be lower. Architects were particularly considerate of the neighborhood when they designed the new Yandex home. Gagarinsky District has a special meaning to Yandex. Many current and former employees grew up in this area and still live there. This is where some of Moscow's leading research institutes are based. And this is also the area where Yandex began. The company's first office was nearby, on Vavilova Street.

Yandex employees will be able to access the new office on foot, on bike, or using a free shuttle bus from the University metro station, the Leninsky Prospekt metro station, or the Ploshchad Gagarina station. The free shuttle bus will also be available to the public. The office will also feature multi-level underground parking facilities for those who prefer to use their own car, while a part of the parking space will be reserved for Yandex.Drive cars.

The new Yandex headquarters has been designed by the London-based bureau PLP Architecture, with the firm's president Lee Polisano acting as the chief architect of the project. Russian architectural bureaus APEX and RTDA have also been involved in this project. In addition, Arteza bureau, which helped to create Zaryadye Park and participated in the renovation of Luzhniki Stadium, will spearhead landscape design. MR Group will be the project's developer. 

Dismantling of the Korston hotel will begin before the end of this year, while construction of the new Yandex campus will start after the project documentation is approved and all the necessary permits are obtained.

Bringing the Classroom Home with Yandex.School

With schools closed and millions of children home during the COVID-19 outbreak, communities everywhere are faced with the challenge of ensuring that their children can continue learning.  Yandex has over thirty educational programs spanning from early education to graduate-level courses.  We are excited to apply our thirteen years of expertise in this field to help families navigate the challenges of homeschooling. Together with the Center for Pedagogical Excellence in Moscow, we created a free online education platform, Yandex.School, to help students, teachers, and parents follow the school curriculum from their desktops and smartphones at home.  

Yandex.School provides free access to online lessons for grades 5-11 and tools for recording and sharing classes for first through fourth graders.  Yandex.School is available in Russia, Kazakhstan, and Belarus.  Our online school is in session during regular school hours and adheres to the state curriculum, providing a sense of normalcy during the pandemic.

We invited educators from some of the most respected schools in Moscow to help us create and deliver online lessons. Many of the teachers have authored textbooks and are seen as the foremost experts in their field. We are very grateful to the more than one hundred of them for their quick response, collaboration, and commitment to ensuring that learning remains a priority during the pandemic.

“Even in these difficult times, it is important for children to have an opportunity to learn,” says Elena Bunina, General Director of Yandex in Russia. “Even if they can’t attend school in person, they should still be able to learn at home. In order to bring a complete learning environment home for millions of children, we created the Yandex.School. Thanks to our cooperation with the Center for Pedagogical Excellence (CPE) in Moscow, we managed to launch our online school in record time. Yandex provided the necessary infrastructure and educational services to our partners at CPE to create the first lessons. While there’s currently a great demand for services like Yandex.School, we also look forward to supporting traditional education with this platform once the children can to go back to school.”

During the first month of Yandex.School, we were thrilled to see that students viewed our lessons over three million times and that peak usage was over 40,000 students participating simultaneously in online lessons. In addition, over 20,000 new teachers  joined our education platform in the first week since the shelter-in-place order was issued. We look forward to welcoming even more students and teachers in the months to come!  

Learning at Home for Grades 5-11 with Yandex.School 

We designed Yandex.School to provide continuity for millions of Russian students now learning from home.  During the regular school hours of 9:00 am-2:00 pm across all of Russia’s eleven time zones, we stream live lessons on more than a dozen different subjects.  The lessons follow the national school curriculum and range from algebra and geometry to social studies and physics.  Beyond the regular curriculum, we also designed state exam prep lessons for 9th and 11th graders.  

Our video lessons are organized by grade so that the students can follow the same material that they would be learning in school. At the end of every school day, lessons are uploaded to Yandex.School. If students miss a live lesson or want to revisit a class, they can access all the video courses on-demand. For students who wish to prepare for the week ahead, we upload weekly lesson plans just before the school week starts.  

The flexibility of Yandex.School allows teachers to use the program in whatever way best suits the progress of their students. Teachers can use Yandex.School as a single resource or incorporate it into other remote learning programs. Schools and teachers conducting remote lessons using other platforms can selectively add certain Yandex.School lessons into their lesson plan or utilise the interactive homework assignments. Yandex.School can also serve as a temporary remote learning platform while schools move their classes online. 

Yandex Resources for Teaching Younger Students in Grades 1-4 

For primary school-age children, we introduced broadcasting tools on Yandex.School. The tools allow teachers of grades 1-4 to plan and record their lessons, which children can then watch online. Teachers can use these tools to continue teaching their curriculum by moving their lesson plans onto our platform. Yandex.School also offers live, interactive text chats to allow teachers to engage with students in real-time. Students and teachers can share images and videos via the chat function to supplement the lessons with additional visuals and explanations. Yandex.School also offers over 50,000 entertaining and informative assignments that students can work on remotely. Parents also can use these activities separately from the teachers.  

Supporting Families in the Months to Come

Yandex.School is a great tool to help students and teachers adapt, while also aiming to give families a sense of normalcy during these challenging times.  In addition to assisting children in sticking to a routine, this platform provides easy and intuitive ways for parents to monitor and manage their children’s studies. 

We are very appreciative of our academic partners and the teachers who helped create Yandex.School.  We wish all of our students and teachers happy and fruitful learning in their new online classrooms!  

Check out Yandex.School (in Russian) to learn more.  

Fighting Price Gouging and Meeting Ecommerce Demand During COVID-19

As COVID-19 spreads, the uncertain situation has led many people to rush out and stock up on essential goods.  Since this results in shortages and empty shelves, people are increasingly having trouble finding staple goods. With additional stay home orders in place, online shopping has become an even more critical service for users.

As a major eCommerce provider in Russia, we have a responsibility to do what we can to ensure that everyone who needs essential goods can find them.  Between our two platforms, Yandex.Market and Beru, we serve a daily audience of more than five million people.    

To help fairly spread resources to these people, we have implemented new policies to limit shortages and prevent price gouging by third-party sellers.  Since our two platforms run independently, we have introduced different policies on each platform. 

Yandex.Market Updates for COVID-19

Yandex.Market, our eCommerce marketplace platform, is more carefully monitoring prices and the assortment of goods in specific product categories.  Sanitizers, medical masks, cereal, canned goods, and hygiene products are in especially high-demand right now and have been for some weeks.  

Within these categories, the Yandex.Market algorithm monitors the price charts and can detect any dramatic price increase (twice or more).  We will temporarily disable a merchant if we find at least one product with an inflated price. Over the past week, we deactivated 300 stores that sold products at inflated prices.  After deleting the entire assortment of goods with inflated prices, a store can reinstate its operation on our platform. 

At the same time, we appreciate there is a lot of pressure on stores right now, so we have adapted our quality control measures to keep the products moving efficiently. Among other changes, we have suspended our regular shopping cart checks and only check in some instances, such as when we receive a signal that the store is not operational. 

To increase safety for customers and couriers, we are also promoting certain measures to minimize the spread of the virus when receiving online orders. In Russia, cash on delivery (COD) to the courier and other in-person exchanges at pickup centers are typical eCommerce practices. We are encouraging users to pay for their items via contactless payment methods and choose other shipping options.  We also suggest customers carefully wash their hands after handling their packages.  

Beru Updates for COVID-19

With Beru, our end-to-end marketplace that we run with Sberbank, our team is also committed to ensuring a steady supply of staple goods at fair prices.  The Beru team set a maximum price for certain product categories and will only display products that are priced accordingly. Categories such as groceries, canned goods, hygiene products, and household cleaners will remain at fixed prices for the foreseeable future.

On top of our efforts to keep Beru products at reasonable prices, we are doing everything possible to deliver goods to our users’ homes on time and have strengthened our delivery capacity. To reduce the likelihood of physical contact, we also added the option for users to have couriers leave prepaid orders at their door. 

We have also taken a number of additional steps to help our partner stores on Beru.  We improved the process for integrating new merchants onto the platform so that we can more quickly respond to high demand.  We limited our merchant suspension policies only to cover extreme violations such as counterfeiting and price gouging. We are also enabling more flexible shipment time (from two days to three) for our partner retailers who operate through drop shipping.  

While the majority of our office team members are working from home, we are committed to helping people and are working around the clock to support our community.  Special thanks to our team members in logistics centers, as well as couriers who continue to bravely navigate cities during the COVID-19 outbreak!  

Take care of yourself and your loved ones!

How Yandex is Responding to Help During COVID-19

The outbreak of COVID-19 is upending the lives of billions of people around the world. This situation has called on individuals and organizations across the globe to do their part to help communities everywhere. Now more than ever, people are turning to connected, intelligent services to help them overcome this uncertain time. Here at Yandex, we’re working to adapt our tools that help consumers and businesses navigate the online and offline world for the current reality. Even as our community of over 10,000 team members transitions to working from home, we’re diligently working on finding solutions that will help people during these challenging times. 

Yandex Information and Tools on COVID-19

Access to accurate and reliable information is key to how people tackle the COVID-19 outbreak. As one of the top global search engines, Yandex is committed to ensuring we can help provide users with useful and accurate information. 

We’ve created a simple, easy to understand platform for all things related to the coronavirus. When searching for “coronavirus” or related keywords on Yandex.ru, our search page presents users with a panel summarizing all information on the virus in one place. The coronavirus dashboard includes symptoms, how to protect one’s self and others, statistics on the outbreak, the latest news, and more. 

We’ve included a series of recommendations from the World Health Organization, and we also present expert responses to commonly asked questions via our Yandex.Q community question-and-answer service. The blue concentric circles are an easy way for users to identify the information we’ve verified with health experts, including the WHO, Russia’s Ministry of Health, doctors, and more.  

Our mapping team introduced a map for Russian speakers that will help them better track the COVID-19 outbreak globally. The map includes statistics within cities and regions to help users remain informed of the cases in their local communities, as well as cases in other countries. We source information for the map from a variety of sources, including the WHO, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, China’s National Health Commission, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, and more. 

We are also working on integrating our coronavirus search portal within Alice, our intelligent assistant.

Online Education Tools

Beginning on March 30th, we are adding remote learning tools to Yandex.Textbook, our free online education platform currently used by 22,000 primary schools across Russia. Teachers can hold live sessions, post homework assignments, and receive feedback from students. Students and teachers will be able to communicate with one another via chat and voice messages.  

In collaboration with the Center for Pedagogical Excellence, we will also launch a fully online, freely available school for students in grades 5-11. Teachers will conduct lessons via our streaming services and Yandex.Tutor, an online task management service for courses. Some of Moscow's leading teachers will teach the classes using curriculums based on national standardized exams. To best replicate families' typical school-year schedules, we will host the lessons during normal school hours.

Our new distance education options join existing remote learning initiatives, such as our Coursera specialisations in machine learning. We encourage everyone to continue to rely on online learning tools throughout this period.   

Yandex Mobility Services Safety and Updates

Beyond providing trusted information, we've also taken steps across our mobility products and services to better serve people impacted by COVID-19 and prevent the spread of the virus. As day-to-day life adapts to the new realities imposed by the coronavirus outbreak, there's been an increase in demand for courier-delivered goods. Yandex is proud to provide these services and retool them for higher demand, but we're also taking steps to ensure the safety of our couriers and users. Some of the actions we're taking to adjust our services to the current environment include:

 Sanitizing

  • Yandex.Taxi is taking steps to minimize the spread of contagions, like encouraging the use of cashless payments only, establishing stricter cleaning guidelines for drivers, and setting up central cleaning locations for vehicles in certain cities.
  • Cleaning staff for our car-sharing service, Yandex.Drive, are more thoroughly cleaning vehicles with extra strength, antiseptic disinfectant. 
  • We are supplying Yandex.Drive vehicles with antiseptic wipes. 
  • Within Yandex Self-Driving, we're using disinfectant to clean our autonomous vehicles.

 Safety for Drivers and Couriers

  • We've established a fund to support drivers and couriers affected by COVID-19 across Yandex.Taxi, Yandex.Eats, and Yandex.Lavka, our grocery delivery service. The fund will support those who contract COVID-19 and drivers who are in contact with an infected person and must self-quarantine. 
  • Guidance on the safe delivery of food and driving for couriers and drivers, along with quizzes and regular updates as the situation evolves.
  • Couriers can access cleaning materials in support offices.
  • We’ve set up locations in Moscow where drivers can undergo a medical check before beginning their shift, including measuring temperature, blood pressure, and a telemedicine chat with a doctor.

Delivery Service Updates

  • Yandex.Taxi will soon begin delivering over-the-counter medications from pharmacies with the recent introduction of legislation to enable this.
  • Yandex.Eats has simplified the procedure for restaurants to join the service.

Yandex Online Entertainment to Pass the Time During COVID-19

Besides the above changes, we’re happy to continue offering free services that can help people find ways to enjoy their time at home more.  Our streaming service provides series, movies, live TV, and cartoons in addition to sports and cultural programs. Users can also listen to a free version of Yandex.Music and interact with Alice to get the latest news, play games, and have some friendly conversation at home.

We understand this is a challenging time for people everywhere, not just among our users and the Yandex community.  We will continue finding ways to adapt our services to best assist people during the coronavirus pandemic, and we are happy to help people through this crisis in whatever ways we can.

Celebrating the Women Driving Change

For International Women’s Day, we recognize the outstanding achievements of women everywhere. Today more than ever, women are creating change. And at Yandex, we want to extend an extra appreciation to our female community members creating change.

As part of our reflection for International Women’s Day 2020, we are sharing insights from just a small portion of our expansive community of outstanding women – women who drive for Yandex.Taxi.

As our ecosystem of intelligent products and services has grown, we have come to operate services that not only help users navigate their daily routines but have created new job opportunities as well.  Our ride-hailing service Yandex.Taxi, which works with third-party transportation carriers, has expanded to hundreds of thousands of drivers, and tens of thousands of those drivers are women.

In some countries where we operate Yandex.Taxi and our international brand, Yango, such as Finland, it may not surprise a passenger to get picked up by a woman. Still, in places like Russia, Armenia, or Uzbekistan the industry is heavily dominated by male drivers, and it’s been very rare for women to take up such an occupation – until recently.

Times are changing in the transportation industry with the introduction of on-demand services and other innovations. Flexible dynamics have encouraged more women into new roles and opportunities to work for themselves. Working as taxi drivers doesn’t come without challenges, but in talking to some of the female drivers, we learned more about their stories creating change in their lives and the taxi industry.  We’re thrilled to share their experiences in honor of all women who are committed to advancing their professions, harnessing their independence, and improving the world around them.

Olga in Yekaterinburg, Russia, decided to start driving a taxi after finding her age was a barrier to employment elsewhere.  

“I have a higher education teaching degree. At first, I worked as a physical education teacher and then as a business trader for 15 years but eventually I was ready to move on.  I wanted to find a salaried job, so at age 51 I entered the labor market. The first time I interviewed for a position I was rejected because of my age. They said I was too old.  I thought it was a mistake but when it happened the second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth time, I realized that there was a pattern. I told employers that I had the required experience, but I was often told, ‘no, we don’t need you,’ or they offered me an alternative job with a low salary.”

“One day, after yet another interview, I called a taxi to take me home.  I told the driver about my difficulty finding a job, and he asked, ‘Can you drive a car?’ I told him, ‘Yes, I can.’ He suggested that I try working as a taxi driver. So I decided I would.  It was challenging at first and I reassured myself that this was a temporary job but as time went on, I became a better navigator. For over three years now, I’ve been working as a taxi driver.”

For Noribic of Almaty, Kazakhstan, driving for Yandex.Taxi offers her the flexibility to work when she wants while still having time to raise her children.

“For more than five years, I was an economist, but I couldn’t adhere to a strict workday schedule. I have three children, and in the morning they need to be taken to study club, then to school at lunchtime, and in the evening they must be taken home.  During the downtime from their schedules, I now work as a taxi driver; it's my hobby. I enjoy being independent."

Irina in Moscow found that being a taxi driver is an excellent way for her to have extra income by working at off-hours, all while having the opportunity to show the men in her family that a woman can work in a male-dominated field.

“This job is not the only source of income for me; I also rent an apartment. I'm a night owl, so I begin driving in the evening, around 5:00 pm. I love working at night when there are no traffic jams — I sometimes work until 2:00 am or 4:00 am and drive 12-15 trips per shift.  Passengers are often surprised that their driver is a woman.”

“My family still hasn't entirely accepted my job. My husband is a very ambitious man, and he thinks I got a job to spite him. ‘The wife is the driver!’  He asks me not to advertise it too much and tells his friends I’m writing a book. My three sons were also shy about it at first. But I’m not offended, and I’m trying to convince them - I really like my work.”

We’re proud that Yandex.Taxi is in a position to help empower women with a job that offers a unique level of flexibility.  Not only that, but we love that our female drivers are helping change perceptions of who a taxi driver can be, and what a woman can do, in many of the countries served by Yandex.Taxi.  To all female trailblazers everywhere, thank you for your inspiration, commitment, and change. Congratulations on all you are achieving big and small! Happy International Women’s Day 2020!

Yandex Launches SoundsEasy Skill for Alice to Help Children with Speech Disorders

Yandex has always taken a particular interest in cultivating positive environments that aid in children’s development.  Our late co-founder Ilya Segalovich brought his passion for youth development to Yandex through initiatives such as Yandex’s outreach programs at Russian orphanages, including Maria’s Children, founded by his wife.  We’ve carried on the spirit of Ilya’s compassion for children through our education programs and tools designed to create positive learning environments, such as Yandex.Textbook.  

As we continuously create innovations, we’re exploring more ways our intelligent ecosystem can also provide tools for children and their parents. Our intelligent assistant, Alice, has been central to this effort, offering educational and developmental support through skills such as “guess the animal” and math games that promote cognitive learning. Last year, our in-house creative team set out to create a skill for Alice that would specifically address an important childhood development issue in Russia using our AI.  Today, after a year developing and testing interactive songs with a team of speech therapists, we are proud to introduce parents, children, and teachers to SoundsEasy, a skill for Alice designed to help children with speech disorders and other early speech impediments.

According to Russia’s former Minister of Education, nearly 60% of school children struggle with speech problems (in Russian).  We learned that speech disorders are particularly challenging to tackle in Russia due to a lack of qualified speech therapists, and many parents are unaware of the issues and their impact.  In many cases, early speech problems can lead to other developmental concerns that lead to consequences later in life, such as speech impediments. Our creative team started researching how we could help improve this with our technologies.  While correcting speech needs to be managed by professionals, a skill for Alice could help children practice sounds and form better habits through repetition.

SoundsEasy offers a selection of catchy and fun songs for forming proper speech habits through interactive recitation with fun characters led by our AI.  Each SoundsEasy training exercise has three parts – the warm-up, syllable practice, and repeating lines from the songs. Using our speech recognition, Alice carefully listens to the speaker and then compares what it hears with the correct pronunciation of the lyrics.  Alice then kindly suggests the child repeat the phrase if it doesn’t match what the assistant is expecting to hear. The characters within SoundsEasy rely on our speech synthesis technologies to naturally interact with children on the content, providing stories, feedback, and encouragement.  

Together with a team of speech pathologists, poets, local pop stars, and psychologists, we created SoundsEasy to help improve the current and future lives of children with speech disorders.  Speech pathologists provided their expertise to design songs for practicing different sounds, ensuring songs don’t mix difficult sounds that would be overly challenging for listeners.  Using the guidelines for writing the songs, poets advised on the lyrics and pop artists recorded catchy songs that are similar to modern pop hits.  

We then developed characters with a unique personality for each pop star called Soundies. We designed the Soundies to combat issues such as dyslexia, dysgraphia, or stage fright that are often a result of speech problems.  For instance, Soundies explain why performing on stage is fun and not scary.  We also integrated new lyrics into familiar songs from the popular Fixiki cartoon.  Fixies characters, which millions of children across Russia already know and love, introduce listeners to exciting technologies and futuristic professions such as “Drone Racer,” and they’ll now be able to help children practice their speech.

Psychologists provided feedback for adjustments, such as adding more encouragement. The characters now offer more praise, and we introduced other motivational features. Children get a coloring exercise upon completing songs, which serves to also stimulate motor skills.  SoundsEasy also aims to promote other essential learning values, such as reading and writing.

Children were also some of the most important collaborators.  Through user experience testing, their feedback helped us refine the skill; for example, through our testing, we observed how antsy and excited children tend to be, which is why we added interactive activities to occupy them through the speaking exercises. More importantly, though, the testing period allowed us to see firsthand how much value this new tool will bring to their lives.  Several of the children who tested the skill returned home to continue trying it out with their families on their own Alice-enabled devices.

We are so grateful for all the teamwork and expertise of everyone who contributed to the development of SoundsEasy. Not only will millions of children and parents benefit from using this interactive Alice skill at home or on the go, kindergartens and other early childhood education centers’  in Moscow will begin using SoundsEasy as part of their curriculum. Speech therapists will also be able to utilize SoundsEasy for Alice by assigning certain songs for children to practice at home, and we hope to soon incorporate SoundsEasy in teaching curriculums at schools across Russia.

While this is an excellent use of our AI, SoundsEasy also reflects the values of Yandex as a company. We hope SoundsEasy raises more awareness of children’s development issues and speech disorders specifically.  We’re excited for all the ways SoundsEasy and future AI innovations will help advance childhood development.