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Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Yandex and Uber spin-off self-driving division

Yandex self-driving Toyota Prius V

Yandex is basically the Google of Russia.

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Steven Ewing/Roadshow

Russian technology company Yandex has been working on self-driving vehicles since 2017. Similarly, it partnered with American firm Uber to form a ridesharing and food-delivery joint-venture. On Friday, the two companies announced they’re spinning the autonomous-vehicle portion of the business off as a separate entity.

Once the financial dust settles, the unimaginatively named Yandex Self Driving Group, or SDG, will be directly owned by both businesses, with Yandex holding about 73% of SDG and Uber around 19%. The remainder will be owned by Yandex employees and management. As part of this move, Yandex is investing $150 million in SDG. However, to date the company’s cumulative investment has only been around $65 million, a figure that includes about $20 million they chipped in during the first half of this year. In a press release shared by Yandex, Arkady Volozh, the company’s chief executive officer said, “We are excited to increase our stake in this strategically important part of our business.” 

Developing self-driving cars is hard — like, really hard — which is why there are no autonomous vehicles available yet, and there probably won’t be for many years. Cost is the likely reason why Yandex and Uber are spinning SDG off, though the move could also help accelerate the development of related technologies. SDG will draw on its parent companies’ technical expertise, though it should be more autonomous, no pun intended.

Yandex, which is likened to the Google of Russia since it offers services including internet search, email, maps, music streaming and more, has been developing self-driving vehicle technology since 2017. According to the company, its 130 test cars have driven more than 4 million miles autonomously on public roads in Russia, the US and even Israel.

Yandex is also working on a special last-mile delivery service called Yandex.Rover. It currently operates in Skolkovo, a technology center in Moscow. Beyond Mother Russia, this service is expected to expand to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and Tel Aviv, Israel, “in the near term.”

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