Yandex Blog

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!


A Grateful Look Back at 2017

Open letter from Arkady Volozh, CEO of Yandex

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year!