Yandex, the ‘Google of Russia,’ is now testing self-driving cars in the snow

Hot off its joint venture with Uber, Russian tech giant Yandex is testing its cold-weather capabilities. The company often known as the Google of Russia is exploring many different industries and technologies, including that of the self-driving variety. And now that it’s forming a joint venture with Uber, it’s stepping up its autonomous capabilities even further. Over the November 25-26 weekend, Yandex conducted test drives with its self-driving taxis in a snowy scenario, ensuring that the autonomous vehicle would be able to keep passengers safe in wintry conditions. In total, the Prius prototypes traveled a total of 300 km during the test.

“We have been working to prepare algorithms for winter ‘at garage’ for a while, so last weekend tests in real world was just the first time we got all confirmations,” Dmitry Polishchuk, head of Yandex.Taxi’s self-driving project, told TechCrunch. Yandex certainly isn’t the first company to test its autonomous abilities in the snow. Just last month, Alphabet-owned Waymo announced that it was testing its own Chrysler Pacific hybrid minivans in snowy and icy conditions in Detroit.

The reason behind such tests is simple — while self-driving vehicles know what to do in ideal road conditions, understanding how to adapt to less than perfect roadways is key to being a good driver (human or otherwise). Snow is often seen as a particular challenge for motorists, as it not only creates a slick roadway, but can also hide road markings and signs. As such, guaranteeing autonomous vehicles’ safe operations in these situations is of the utmost importance.

Yandex has yet to test the self-driving cars on public roads, which means that they haven’t actually driven alongside humans. This, of course, will be a key step in bringing these autonomous vehicles to market. The company hopes to begin these trails in 2018, but this would require some legislation to be passed — as it stands, Russia forbids using self-driving cars on public roads.

For the time being, however, Polishchuk is pleased with the current tests. “There was nothing unexpected,” he said of the recent snow tests. “Computer vision algorithms should be specially tuned to work properly when the snow is falling and covering road surface, and driving technology should count slick surface when choosing speed mode. We will continue tests during the whole winter to make sure our technology for driverless car is reliable for such conditions.”

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