Yandex Blog

Yandex.Drive Hits 2 Million Rides, Doubles Its Fleet, & Announces Refueling Trucks

Earlier this year Yandex expanded its transportation services and efforts to improve urban living by launching its first car sharing service, Yandex.Drive, becoming one of the largest services in Moscow and surpassing over 2 million rides within the first six months of operation. Yandex.Drive, which offers drivers on-demand access to a fleet of vehicles through a mobile application, has since added a business class option and yesterday announced a refueling service for its fleet.

Starting in February 2018 Yandex.Drive offered users in Moscow and the surrounding region access to a fleet of 750 vehicles that included Kia Rios, Kia Rio X-Lines or Renault Kapturs for as low as five roubles ($0.09) per minute. Within months of this launch Yandex.Drive has more than doubled its fleet to over two thousand vehicles to meet consumer demand.

Recently Yandex.Drive added Audi and VW cars to the fleet and started offering qualified drivers access to 500 business class vehicles that include Mercedes E-Class and BMW 5 series vehicles.  The service also added new premium options that provide drivers access to crossover Porsche Macan vehicles and Porsche 911 Carrera 4S vehicles.

Drivers with a safe driving record over the age of 26 who have been licensed for a minimum of six years will have access to business class vehicles at a rate of 20 rubles per minute ($0.32)  for Porches and 10 rubles per minute ($0.16) for Mercedes and BMW vehicles.  Yandex.Drive rides are billed on a per minute basis and Yandex integrates traffic conditions and customer demand to provide dynamic pricing at the time of reservation. The price includes fuel, parking, liability and life insurance.

Moscow is an incredibly congested and challenging city in which to own a vehicle. This has led it to become the largest car-sharing market in Europe based on the overall available size of the fleet of vehicles. By offering users a viable alternative to car ownership through an accessible car sharing service that includes personalisation through the Yandex.Auto in-car infotainment system associated with each user’s account, plus a range of vehicle choices, Yandex.Drive has become one of the top services in the market.

Yandex also announced yesterday that it has plans to purchase a fleet of refueling trucks from Toplivovbak to integrate a more efficient refueling feature for Yandex.Drive cars.  The refueling trucks will not only help drive overall costs down but also serve to benefit drivers who need to refuel when taking long trips with their Yandex.Drive car.

Refueling Yandex.Drive vehicles will be done automatically using algorithms that gauge the fuel levels in vehicles and send fueling trucks to nearby cars.  By automating the process and monitoring of fuel levels, users won’t need to end their rides early or switch to another vehicle in order to refuel.

“We aim to provide our users with an efficient, convenient, and comfortable car sharing experience.  Over the past six months, the expansion of Yandex.Drive has led to an even better experience for our users that ranges from more vehicle choices to new app features. Optimizing the refueling process for our fleet of vehicles will further enhance the car sharing service we offer users and we look forward to further expansion and innovation.“ says Anton Ryazanov, Head of Yandex.Drive.

Users can start using Yandex.Drive by downloading the application for Android and iOS.

Expanding the Yandex Intelligent Assistant Ecosystem

Today at our annual Yet Another Conference (YAC) we announced major expansions to the Yandex intelligent assistant ecosystem that includes our new smart speaker, a new skills platform for our intelligent assistant Alice, and a new bundled subscription service.  Combined these developments offer the Russian audience more choice and the most advanced ability to navigate the online and offline world to date.

Over the years we have provided the Russian audience with many firsts and many highly localized smart products and services. And over time many of these products and services have come to operate together through our Search app to offer a more fluid user-experience. Last fall we enhanced that experience by introducing our Russian-speaking intelligent assistant Alice - first to mobile through our Search and Browser apps, then to desktops through Yandex Browser, and then to cars through our navigation app, Yandex.Navigator and the forthcoming integration in our Yandex.Auto connected car platform.

Building on our success helping users with tens of millions of daily interactions on Alice on multiple platforms, we are excited to welcome Alice to Russian homes in addition to building out more capabilities and benefits for users of our smart speaker and services.

A new platform & our first hardware launch

Our new smart speaker, Yandex.Station, is not only our first hardware product but it is the first smart speaker for the Russian market. With the introduction of Yandex.Station, Russian users now have the ability to rely on Alice and voice commands to manage a number of routine tasks in their homes.

Yandex.Station is the first smart speaker to incorporate a full video streaming experience.  A HDMI output allows Yandex.Station users to ask Alice to search for and playback videos, movies and television shows from a wide variety of sources.  Currently, Yandex.Station has access to Yandex's video streaming service KinoPoisk, as well as a wide range of other content including premium local video service providers ivi and Amediateka.

Yandex.Station will be available for purchase for 9,990 roubles ($160) this summer.

More collaboration and capabilities for our intelligent assistant

To further expand Alice’s functionality on Yandex.Station and all other platforms, we created a developers skills platform for Alice called Yandex.Dialogues.  This platform is designed to make it easy for any 3rd party developer to create new skills for Alice, ranging from a beginner programmer working on their first game to a major brand that can further enhance their customer experiences, such as a restaurant chain taking food orders.

Through Yandex.Dialogues developers can empower Alice to create custom conversations with users.  Developers choose a custom hotword that a potential customer can then use to activate a custom chat, game or whatever service has been developed. For example, a customer can say, “Alice, launch the Papa John’s skill” to activate Papa John’s skill that handles their pizza ordering.  Developers can also uniquely incorporate a live-chat feature to manage customer service that can include chatbots and live human operators to provide the best possible user experience.

The Dialogues chat functionality will also be available on Yandex’s search results page to further expand their reach.

Yandex.Dialogues is mutually beneficial for both our users and businesses. Users gain more choice and more efficient interactions with companies, while businesses have an innovative opportunity to reach and serve new and existing audiences.

Thanks to the creativity of hundreds of developers during the three-month beta testing period for Dialogues, Alice now allows users to interact with some of their favorite brands.   

Alice has the capability to help users order a pizza from Papa John’s, groceries from Utkonos and flowers from Flowwow.  Alice can also help users check MegaFon mobile phone account balances, exercise with Reebok, select air tickets from S7, search for a job with HeadHunter, study English with SkyEng, browse a McDonald’s menu, and consult with a Sberbank bot.  With Dialogues now publically available we look forward to all of the new skills that will help Alice serve users’ needs better.

New benefits and options for our users  

When it comes to offering more benefits for our products and services, we launched a new bundled subscription service for Yandex products, Yandex.Plus,that provides advanced opportunities to utilize the Yandex ecosystem.

Owners of the new Yandex.Station will receive a complimentary one-year subscription to Yandex.Plus, which regularly costs 169 roubles ($2.75) per month, and includes:

  • Complete access to Yandex.Music, including unlimited downloads to mobile devices and high-quality music streaming.
  • A 10% discount for Yandex.Taxi rides in the Comfort, Comfort+ and Business categories.
  • Free delivery for customers in over 30 locations in Russia spending over 500 roubles on Yandex.Market's new marketplace recently launched in beta.
  • A 5% discount for any Yandex.Drive ride with an extended car reservation period.
  • Ad-free viewing of films and television series on the web-based version of KinoPoisk.
  • Additional 10GB of free storage space on Yandex.Disk.

As we reflect on these important expansions to the Yandex intelligent ecosystem, we are excited by the advancements and opportunities this creates for the Russian audience and the entire global technology community.  

An update on our intelligent assistant Alice

Last fall we launched our intelligent assistant Alice, providing the Russian market with an assistant equipped with high-quality conversational abilities and advanced understanding of context. We were especially excited to provide users with this unique interactive feature and we were humbled by the overwhelming positive feedback we received.  Today Alice engages in tens of millions of interactions every day to millions of daily active users.

While we have been thrilled to see the adoption (plus all our users’ funny memes and screenshots), we were also eager to keep Alice on track in advancing its development as a centralized tool that integrates multiple useful services, which started with Search, Weather, News, Maps, Transport, and Music.  Over the course of Alice’s first six months in production, we introduced several new features and capabilities to provide users with even more assistance.  We shared those updates to our Russian users as they happened but wanted to provide a recap to our English audience before we enter the next phase of development and expand Alice’s capabilities even further:

  • Integration with Yandex.Navigator: Alice is now helping drivers stay safer on the roads through integration with Yandex.Navigator, Yandex’s navigation system that serves over 18 million drivers every month.  With the help of Alice and advanced speech technologies, drivers can ask Alice to help provide routes to destinations, locate the nearest gas station, and find open parking spots among other features.  While Yandex.Navigator previously handled specific voice commands, the integration with Alice has enhanced the service to offer more natural interaction on relevant navigation topics.
  • Integration with Yandex.Taxi: Through integration with our market-leading Yandex.Taxi app, Alice can also help book taxi orders by checking the address or name of the desired organization and then launching the Yandex.Taxi order page with all relevant information. After a user makes the request, he or she just needs to hit the order button once Alice has loaded all relevant information.
  • Interactive Games: Alice offers users a chance to test their knowledge and entertain themselves with over 16 interactive games.  Alice’s games help challenge users with their knowledge of various topics through trivia style games such as This day in history, Guess the Animal, and Fact or Fiction.
  • Integration with Yandex Browser for desktop: Through integration with Yandex Browser, Alice offers users a new way to interact with their computer through voice.  In addition to other standard functions offered through mobile, Alice provides assistance with operations in both the browser and the computer. Alice can help open a favorite YouTube channel, play a song and change the volume in addition to other options such as launching Word or shutting down the computer.
  • Math and currency conversions: Alice helps users quickly solve their advanced banking and math questions through voice commands. Alice computes math questions in addition to helping with currency conversions.
  • Timer and Alarm: Alice helps users stay on schedule with the timer and alarm functions that are integrated into Android.  Whether it is setting a timer while cooking or a reminder, Alice users can simply ask Alice to help them stay organized.

As part of this process to expand Alice’s capabilities and ecosystem even further, we introduced a beta version of Yandex.Dialogues, which provides developers the opportunity to develop new skills for Alice.  We believe that some of the best products come from collaboration and diversity and we look forward to Alice’s growth through this initiative.  We are excited to share more news on the development of Alice in the coming future!

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.