Yandex Blog

Yandex Self-Driving Car Gives First Rides in the US

Last week, Yandex’s self-driving car navigated the public streets of Las Vegas during CES 2019 without an operator behind the steering wheel.  Our car safely delivered dozens of passengers to and from the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino to demonstrate the latest advancements of our self-driving technology and the scalability to operate the vehicle against new traffic conditions in Las Vegas.

Starting in late November, the Yandex team retrofitted a Toyota Prius with an array of radars, lidars, and cameras that interpret the world around the car.  Radars are located in the front and rear bumpers, the lidars are on the roof, and five cameras mounted around the car capture 360-degree video.  The combined sensors can identify objects within a 200-meter radius of the car.  This incoming information is processed by the custom-built computer that sits in the trunk of the car, which runs on proprietary software built by our team.

Passengers could see the car processing the world around it on two tablets, one mounted on the dashboard by the safety engineer and the other on the center console for rear passengers.  Passengers were able to track the car in real-time on a high-definition map of the streets it was traversing, including the planned and possible routes of the vehicle in addition to 3D models of vehicles, pedestrians, and dynamic icons of traffic lights.

During the two week period mapping and planning the demo route, the Yandex self-driving team also coded a few adjustments to allow the vehicle to safely operate in the local traffic conditions.  For instance, the team made adjustments for the appearance of the lanes on the local streets and to properly yield to traffic at blinking yellow lights.

The passengers experienced the car yielding to cars and pedestrians on unprotected left-hand turns, changing lanes on a four-lane road at the 45 mph speed limit, and reading traffic lights with the onboard cameras.  While we provided rides on predefined routes to demonstrate the car against different challenges, the car could travel between any two points in the mapped area.

Each ride we provided to passengers proved to be a unique experience and another important step towards the development of self-driving technologies.  Thanks to everyone on the Yandex team and all of our first passengers in the U.S. who helped make our self-driving car’s first drives outside Russia a resounding success!  We look forward to doing more with our self-driving technologies in the U.S. in the future.

Check out a video below of tech YouTuber MKBHD taking a driverless ride in our self-driving car during CES 2019.

Yandex Joins Two Patent Defense Organizations

Yandex recently joined the License on Transfer (LOT) Network and the Open Invention Network (OIN), two organizations committed to innovation and combating aggressive actions by patent assertion entities (PAEs), more commonly known as “patent trolls.”  As a company that develops innovative technologies and believes in a fair and competitive environment, Yandex is happy to join other tech firms in preventing patent issues that undermine the basic principles of innovation.

Patent trolls typically buy the rights for patents that the holders cannot renew, then enforce them against businesses that use products or technologies covered by the patents.  The LOT Network began in 2014 as an initiative by Google to combat patent trolls, and now counts over 360 members, including Facebook, Amazon, Microsoft and Alibaba, among other leading tech firms.  The companies in LOT have agreed that if a member of the network sells or transfers the rights to one of its patents to a patent troll, no firm in the network can be sued for infringing such patent.

“As the largest global community of patent holders who have banded together to protect innovation, we are thrilled to include Yandex among the thought leaders in LOT Network,” said Ken Seddon, CEO of LOT Network.  “Our members come from all industries, and like Yandex, recognize that with the convergence of technology, PAEs are a growing global concern.”

OIN is a group of companies dedicated to defending patents that are used by Linux and Linux-related systems.  Google, Microsoft, IBM, Red Hat, Alibaba and now Yandex are just a few of the tech firms that make up OIN. OIN has a shared pool of patents that its members can use royalty-free in exchange for a guarantee that members will not assert their patents used by Linux systems.

"Open source has an almost endless number of touch points with the average person throughout their day. It powers search engines, banking networks, telecom networks, consumer products and a spectrum of IoT devices, among other instances,” said Keith Bergelt, CEO of Open Invention Network.  “We are pleased that Yandex, the largest technology company in Russia and one of the world's largest search providers, is demonstrating its commitment to innovation and patent non-aggression in open source by joining our community."

Andrey Inshakov, Head of the Patent Department at Yandex, said, “At Yandex, we believe that patent law exists to stimulate innovation and promote the development of technology.  Patents should not be used to stifle innovation, which is why we have joined these two networks of leading tech firms. We are happy to contribute to the efforts of the LOT Network and OIN in preventing patent trolls and aggressive patent litigation from undermining the basic principles of innovation and an open market.”

Yandex Demonstrates Self-Driving Car on the Streets of Las Vegas During CES 2019

Yandex is operating a self-driving car in Las Vegas with just a safety engineer in the front passenger seat (NVO Mode).  The company will be providing demonstration rides of its self-driving car on the public streets of Las Vegas starting from the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino during CES 2019.

To prepare for CES, the team acquired a car locally and retrofitted it with the necessary sensors and hardware for self-driving operation.  The team then used Yandex’s mapping technologies to build a custom HD map of the neighborhood around the hotel. Yandex’s proprietary self-driving software stack was then localized and optimized to the driving conditions of Las Vegas.  The transformation of both the car and the software was completed in only one month. The route tests the Yandex self-driving car against unprotected left-hand turns, pedestrians, and busy traffic with speeds up to 45 mph.

Las Vegas was the first test location outside of Russia for Yandex’s self-driving car unit, and in addition to the CES demo, Yandex recently announced it is expanding its self-driving tests to Israel.  

“We are excited to show our self-driving achievements to the CES community here in the US.  After first building and testing vehicles in Moscow, the world’s second most congested city, and launching a successful robo-taxi program that is operating throughout the winter in two cities, coming to CES was a great opportunity to test our technology’s scalability and flexibility in a new environment.  Similar to our robo-taxi program, our self-driving car in Las Vegas is operational with just a safety engineer in the front passenger seat, which is an important step in advancing our technology.”  Dmitry Polishchuk, Head of Yandex Self-Driving.

Yandex first began working on driverless technology in early 2017, combining our expertise in machine learning, navigation, mapping tools, and cloud technologies.  In May 2017, Yandex introduced its first prototype. Currently, Yandex is testing cars against all weather conditions across three countries and operating robo-taxi services in two cities in Russia.  The two robo-taxi locations have delivered over 2000 passenger rides with just a safety engineer in the front passenger seat.

A Look Back at Yandex Tech in 2018

By Mikhail Parakhin, Yandex CTO

2018 has been another exciting year of innovation at Yandex.  Ahead of the New Year, I wanted to take the opportunity to recognize the work of our teams and the progress achieved since this time last year.

Over the course of 2018, Yandex increased our engineering staff by over 40% as we set out to create new opportunities for users, businesses, and the global tech community.  Together, our growing teams continued to develop innovations that improve the daily lives of our users and help build a better future for them.

This year, our intelligent assistant, Alice, expanded from its initial core functionalities to over 50,000 skills.  After first being launched through our search app, Alice is now available on eight different platforms ranging from smart speakers to connected cars, rapidly shifting how Russian users and businesses are interacting with intelligent voice technologies.  Alice is revolutionizing the way users interact with their devices across our ecosystem of connected products and services.

In the past year, Alice also developed the power of vision with the integration of best-in-class reverse image search capabilities.  This skill helps users better connect with the world around them, whether they are traveling and curious about a landmark or spot a pair of shoes to purchase as a gift.

In December 2017, our self-driving car was tested on closed tracks against winter weather conditions on the outskirts of Moscow.  This December, our self-driving cars are actively offering rides to passengers in two tech hubs with just a safety engineer in the front passenger seat.  To date, Yandex has provided over 2000 autonomous ride-hailing trips between the two locations and we are now testing the cars in three countries - Russia, the US, and Israel. 

While these advancements deserve to be celebrated and will most certainly continue to shift our daily routines in major ways, I am most excited about the advances in AI that are subtly improving user experiences and continuing to raise both our teams’ and our users’ expectations for what Yandex can deliver.

One example of these impressive AI advances in 2018 was the new neural-network based DeepHD super-resolution technology for upscaling photos and videos.  In building DeepHD, the Yandex computer vision team created the first video super-resolution technology using GANs that offers users better quality content in real time.  As more and more users shift to their laptops or phones for content streaming, in 2018, DeepHD helped users across Yandex’s streaming services rediscover their favorite classics in stunning quality and watch current programs with a significantly clearer picture.

Another example of subtle but important AI innovations this year was the work of the Yandex.Weather team.  Throughout 2018, the Yandex.Weather team continued to advance our up-to-the-second weather forecast service by using satellite imagery as a new data source for precipitation maps.  Using AI, Yandex improved traditional weather forecasting techniques to provide our users with highly advanced and accurate weather updates.  And with the use of satellite technology, Yandex.Weather models can utilize more data and expand their service area.

It’s exciting to think these innovations have quietly changed how modern users expect to receive their weather updates today, when in our lifetimes we amusingly watched Doc tell Marty McFly that the rain would stop in five seconds in Back to the Future.  Building and continuing to advance a service that can do just that is, as Doc said, “Right on the tick, amazing. Absolutely amazing.” 

With this year’s search update, Andromeda, we continued to find ways to personalize the search experience for our users and help them find answers as quickly as possible.  Our search results now provide enhanced quick answers to give users even more information from the results page, and they feature badges that note which sites are the most accurate and relevant,  making it easier than ever for our users to find everything they need right from the results page.

Throughout 2018 we also continued to update our open-source gradient boosting library, CatBoost, and our open-source database management system, ClickHouse, which have both seen major adoption by top global companies throughout the year.   Yandex also introduced the new intelligent cloud platform, Yandex.Cloud, providing companies with flexible IT solutions using scalable virtual infrastructure, automated services for managing popular database systems, and AI-based Yandex services.

In 2018, we also maintained our efforts to diffuse AI knowledge to the wider tech community, as the Yandex School of Data Analysis introduced several new courses and opportunities for learners everywhere such as a new one-year ML career advancement program in Tel Aviv.  Yandex team members also further advanced AI opportunities by publishing significant research for the global community such as a recent paper at NeurIPS, “Non-metric Similarity Graphs for Maximum Inner Product Search.”

While this doesn’t cover everything we achieved this year, I want to thank all the teams here at Yandex for their work throughout 2018, and to the users and businesses for continuing to drive our innovation.  We look forward to another innovative year in 2019!

Happy New Year!

Mikhail

Yandex Expands Self-Driving Car Tests to Tel Aviv

Today we are excited to announce that Yandex has obtained permission from the Israeli Ministry of Transportation and Road Safety to operate its self-driving car on public roads. The car is now officially approved to operate in autonomous mode with a safety engineer in the driver’s seat.  Following extensive public road testing in Russia and most recently, in the US, this new location marks the third country where Yandex is testing its self-driving vehicles.  Yandex is also one of the first companies to operate self-driving cars in Israel.

After launching in other locations, Yandex is excited to operate in Israel, where there are several favorable dynamics that make it a prime location to continue developing our self-driving technologies.  In addition to being a leading tech hub with high-quality roads, Israeli cities have a highly developed infrastructure that makes the country an ideal location for testing.

“We are excited to start testing our self-driving technologies abroad to demonstrate that they’re scalable, universal and can manage various geography and traffic conditions. Israel became an obvious choice as one of the first countries outside Russia where we wanted to expand our testing.  We’re honored to be one of the first companies in the country to receive a permit to operate self-driving vehicles.  Yandex has been developing innovative machine learning technologies and providing leading transportation services for many years.  Our self-driving car is an amazing example of our achievements in AI and we were proud to use it as a learning tool at Yandex’s Y-Data School in Tel Aviv.  Israel is home to top IT professionals and many important autonomous vehicle partners.  By operating our vehicle in Israel, we will be able to work more efficiently with these companies and with the local talent.  We look forward to more innovation and collaboration with the community here,” says Dmitry Polischuk, Head of Yandex Self-Driving Car project.

The Yandex self-driving team first began working on our driverless technology in 2016, combining our expertise in machine learning, navigation, mapping tools, and cloud technologies.  In May of 2017, we introduced our prototype and since then have rapidly advanced to driving on the busy streets of Moscow and our most recent fully autonomous ride-hailing launches in the tech-focused cities of Innopolis and Skolkovo.  Between the two locations, Yandex self-driving vehicles provided over 2000 passenger trips and counting!  In launching those services, Yandex self-driving became the first service in Europe to offer autonomous ride-hailing.  For the past month, our team has also been testing on the public roads of Las Vegas, Nevada in preparation for Yandex’s public demonstration at CES in January 2019.

The launch in Israel will further test our scalability and expand our capabilities in new environments.  In the last year in Israel, Yandex also opened up a Tel Aviv branch of the Yandex School of Data Analysis to offer a one year career advancement program in machine learning and launched our Yandex.Music AI-powered music streaming application.  Most recently, this month our ride-hailing service, Yandex.Taxi, launched in Gush Dan and several other regions of Israel under the new international brand, Yango.  Introduced in 2011, Yandex.Taxi currently operates in 15 countries across CIS, the EU, and Africa and it runs the R&D division for Yandex self-driving.

Understanding How Yandex Worked with Facebook

There has recently been a lot of news coverage regarding tech companies in the US and globally and their partnerships with Facebook.  We wanted to explain the nature of our former partnership with Facebook to help our users better understand the dynamics and to ensure our users that we are deeply committed to protecting their privacy.

In January 2014, Yandex announced that it entered into an agreement with Facebook to enrich our search results by indexing public data from Facebook pages and public Facebook posts for users in Russia, Turkey, Ukraine, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and other CIS countries.  Similar to other leading search engines, the agreement with Facebook helped improve our search results and also provided Facebook with more traffic.  Our agreement was limited to the countries stated above in which we operate our search engine, and was limited to content posted by users under “Public” privacy settings.  No user data from other countries was shared between Facebook and Yandex.  Yandex and other search engines stopped receiving data from Facebook in 2015 after Facebook disabled the relevant API enabling the data feed.  Yandex complied with all terms of the agreement for receiving data, and we were unaware of any continued or additional access being shared with Yandex through that API.  In providing our services, a significant part of our commitment to users everywhere is protecting their privacy and security.

Yandex is an international company and is listed on the Nasdaq Global Select Market.  As it pertains to information requests, in each country in which we operate, Yandex complies with strict internal procedures and all applicable legal requirements when dealing with requests by local authorities, which provide that any requests may be considered only upon a proper court decision or under other grounds provided for by laws of the respective jurisdiction.  Yandex does not voluntarily share any information with the authorities and has a history of successfully challenging unfounded requests for user data in courts.

Looking Back on 2018 with Yandex.Music

This was a big year for Yandex.Music, as we expanded to three new countries (Armenia, Uzbekistan, and Israel) and our streaming service became available through new platforms, like our Yandex.Station smart speaker and Yandex.Phone.  Yandex.Music provides over 20 million listeners in six countries with access to tens of millions of tracks. As 2018 comes to a close, we wanted to take a look at what our users on Yandex.Music have been listening to the most over the past year.  We’ve looked at stats for each country and found a few key trends that stand out.  The Yandex.Music experts found the most popular artists for each market, as well as the most streamed foreign and Russian-language artists.

Pop, dance and rap artists delivered the most popular tracks in each country, with our listeners in most markets having fairly similar tastes.  The most popular song in four of the five countries was “In My Mind,” the dance hit by Dynoro and Gigi D'Agostino.  Only in Kazakhstan was the song edged out for the top spot, with our listeners there giving the most streams to “Medina” by Kazakhstani rapper Jan Khalib.  DJs Dynoro and Gigi D’Agostino were not the only Western artists to be heavily streamed, as other familiar names such as Sia, David Guetta, Calvin Harris, and Imagine Dragons had tracks popular among our listeners in all of our countries.

Yandex.Music users were also particularly fond of Russian-language artists.  Aside from Jan Khalib, whose “Medina” was one of the most streamed tracks on Yandex.Music, many other singers who perform in Russian filled out the top 10 lists.  In Russia, Russian-language artists nabbed half of the ten most popular tracks, but they were popular in our other markets as well.  Some constants included LOBODA, an established pop favorite across the Russian-speaking world, whose hit “SuperSTAR” was one of the most streamed songs in nearly every market.  The rapper MATRANG was also popular on multiple charts, as was singer Philipp Kirkorov.

One of the most notable breakthrough successes of 2018 on Yandex.Music was Russian singer Monetochka.  The young pop artist was discovered mainly due to her YouTube performances becoming viral, and her May album, “Coloring For Adults,” was a huge hit on Yandex.Music.  Her song “Every Time” was one of the most streamed tracks in nearly all of our markets.

Some other standout artists also had a good year in the markets served by Yandex.Music.  MARUV is a Ukrainian pop singer who typically records in English, and scored one of the most popular songs in Russia with her collaboration with producer Boosin, “Drunk Groove.”  Another one of their English collaborations, “Black Water,” was a hit as well, especially in Kazakhstan.  While Dua Lipa will likely be familiar to our international readers, less known may be the Korean pop group BLACKPINK.  Not only was their English and Korean song “Kiss and Make Up” the second most popular song in Israel, but Israel was the only Yandex.Music country where their song made it into the top 10.

We’re happy to continue providing our millions of listeners with a great, easy way to listen to their favorite tracks.  Here’s to an even bigger 2019!

Yandex.Cloud Now Available for All Enterprise Users in Russia

In early September, we announced the launch of our intelligent public cloud platform, Yandex.Cloud.  The first phase of our launch included organizations that requested access to the platform and the companies that started using Yandex.Cloud during the initial test period.  After this preliminary rollout period, we are excited to announce that Yandex.Cloud is now available for all enterprise users in Russia.

The universal release of Yandex.Cloud is the culmination of our initiative to provide businesses in Russia with a cloud-based solution for powering their apps and services.  Up to now, businesses in Russia have had limited options for advanced cloud computing platforms.  With the release of Yandex.Cloud, Yandex is helping meet this demand for cloud services in Russia.  Yandex.Cloud provides companies with flexible IT solutions using scalable virtual infrastructure, automated services for managing popular database systems, and AI-based Yandex services.  Our cloud platform also complies with local regulations requiring the data of Russian internet users to remain in the country, as Yandex.Cloud is deployed in data centers across Russia.

In addition to the public release of Yandex.Cloud for all enterprise users in Russia, our cloud platform will now also be offering customers the opportunity to try alpha versions of new products, as noted by Yan Leshinsky, Head of Yandex.Cloud.

“Together with offering universal access to our platform, we are providing an opportunity to try alpha versions of our new products: a network load balancer, a Redis-based managed service, and data visualization service DataLens.  We are also expanding our compute service, which will now let our users manage groups of virtual machines of the same type. This functionality will also be available in alpha. Our goal is to continually develop our platform while focusing on the vital needs of our customers and their regular feedback.”

Yandex.Cloud gives enterprise customers an opportunity to use the infrastructure and machine learning technologies behind Yandex services.  In addition to the Yandex machine translation, speech recognition and speech synthesis services already available in Yandex.Cloud, the platform now also integrates a virtual machine image with a template preset to work with the Yandex.Dialogues skills platform.  With this integration of the virtual machine image for Yandex.Dialogues, developers can more easily create skills for Alice and host them on the Yandex.Cloud platform.

During the first, limited phase of the Yandex.Cloud launch, select companies have had the opportunity to try Yandex.Cloud for working with data, web app development and hosting.  We spoke with some of these early users of Yandex.Cloud to hear their thoughts on the service.

“We chose the Yandex.Cloud platform for hosting the websites of many brands within Condé Nast Russia,"  says Dmitry Klichugin, IT Director at Condé Nast Russia.  "Our plan is to move all of our websites to Yandex.Cloud and start using Yandex’s cloud platform for collecting and processing data.  Some of the factors which drew us to Yandex.Cloud include flexible pricing, the service’s reliability, out-of-box tools for data processing and machine learning services, as well as, importantly, the opportunity to store and process the data of our customers according to local regulations.”

“Yandex.Cloud has fully met all our expectations," notes Ivan Moyseev, head of software development at Hot-WiFi, a company that manages guest WiFi networks.  "Data centers located in Russia, ‘database as a service’ providing everything we wanted, and a stable, low latency network between availability zones.  A special mention should go to the development team and the customer support team, who are quick to answer any question. We received a lot of consultation and learned a lot from talking to the Yandex.Cloud team. It’s such a pleasure to deal with specialists who speak the same language as you and understand all your needs.”

“MerliON has developed a Commvault-based ‘backup-as-a-service’ product as part of our cloud distribution platform development.  This solution lets us backup and restore our partners’ customer data to the cloud. After testing popular public cloud services, we chose Yandex.Cloud’s object storage to backup our clients’ data.  Yandex.Cloud’s key advantages for us included triple data backup, a reasonable pricing structure and the availability of an API for cloud management,” says Anton Salov, head of MerliONCloud, a firm offering enterprise cloud solutions.

In the three months since the limited release of Yandex.Cloud, our cloud platform has attracted the interest of over ten thousand national and global businesses in Russia.  We’re excited to today expand our cloud computing service to all interested enterprise users in the country.  We look forward to more companies employing Yandex.Cloud for their needs and taking advantage of the new features we have planned for the service.

New Yandex Smartphone Offers a Unified Yandex Mobile Experience

Today, Yandex announced the release of its first smartphone, Yandex.Phone.  This device is the first phone to be fully powered by our intelligent assistant, Alice, and it is the first smartphone to be entirely integrated into the Yandex mobile ecosystem of apps and services right out of the box.  We’re excited to provide mobile users with the best Yandex smartphone experience.

Our smartphone gives Russian mobile users unrivalled integration with our ecosystem with a mobile experience personalised with Yandex apps and services.  Yandex.Phone learns more about its owner’s schedule as they use the phone, and the phone provides notifications based on what its user is doing. Integration with Yandex.Maps gives users timely traffic updates while Yandex.Weather provides hyperlocal forecasting.

Yandex.Phone is the only smartphone in Russia to have Alice completely integrated into the phone.  For the first time, mobile users can use Russia’s most powerful intelligent assistant across all apps and services.  Alice can be activated regardless of what a user is doing on the phone, and the user can employ voice commands to interact with the assistant even when the phone is not being held.

Alice suggests the user dress warmly for cold weather tomorrow.

Yandex.Phone has a 5.65-inch Full HD+ LCD screen with IPS and runs Android 8.1 with our Yandex.Launcher interface, and an octa-core Snapdragon processor powers the phone.  A fingerprint sensor allows users to unlock the phone by touch, with Gorilla Glass on the front and back with an aluminum frame.  The phone has dual 16MP and 5MP rear cameras and a 5MP front camera, both with flash, and 64GB of expandable storage.

The phone retails for 17,990 rubles ($270) and will be available tomorrow at the Yandex Store at our Moscow headquarters.  On December 7, users can buy the phone through Beeline, one of Russia’s largest telecommunications providers, and at M.Video and Eldorado retail electronics stores.  Users will also be able to buy the phone on December 7 through our new Beru e-commerce marketplace, with free delivery across Russia.

In May, we unveiled our first hardware product, the Yandex.Station smart speaker, which brought Alice into homes across Russia for the first time.  With the announcement of two third-party smart speakers last month, our intelligent assistant became available in even more products for the home.  Alice is also now available in cars across Russia, through the Yandex.Auto infotainment system on certain new vehicles and in all vehicles in our Yandex.Drive car-sharing fleet.  Yandex.Phone marks our second hardware release this year and provides the most comprehensive Yandex and Alice mobile experience in Russia.

We’re happy to give our users a new way to engage with our products and services and to provide the most extensive Yandex mobile experience yet.  We look forward to expanding the array of products in the Yandex ecosystem and bringing Alice to an even wider audience.

Yandex to Demo Self-Driving Car at CES 2019

Yandex is excited to announce that we have received a license to operate our self-driving car in the state of Nevada.  With this autonomous vehicle license, we will be demoing our self-driving car on the public roads of Las Vegas during the week of CES 2019.  From Monday, January 7th until Friday, January 11th, we will be providing rides in our self-driving car for the first time outside of Russia.

The autonomous vehicle license in Nevada creates another opportunity to continue to advance our self-driving capabilities in new environments.  In February 2018, the car began navigating the snowy streets of Moscow, and in late August we launched Europe’s first autonomous ride-hailing service in the tech hub of Innopolis, Russia.  In October, Yandex.Taxi’s autonomous ride-hailing service expanded to the Skolkovo district of Moscow, and between the two locations we have delivered over 1,750 rides in just a few months.  The autonomous ride-hailing service is operating with a safety engineer in the passenger seat.

We look forward to seeing all of our passengers at CES 2019 and sharing more about developing the Las Vegas vehicle and its testing ahead of CES.