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Russia's Yandex chooses Ann Arbor for long-term testing of AVs – Automotive News

Russian tech company Yandex came to Michigan with the hopes of showcasing its autonomous-driving systems during the North American International Auto Show in Detroit.
Those plans changed amid the pandemic, and continue to do so.
Even after the show was canceled, Yandex intended to make the Motor City its home base for testing in North America. But the company said Thursday its long-term U.S. fleet instead would locate down the road.
Yandex will run its operations out of nearby Ann Arbor, which has established itself as a regional destination for autonomous testing. The University of Michigan’s Mcity test facility was the world’s first purpose-built AV proving ground. Self-driving shuttle company May Mobility is headquartered in the city, about 45 miles west of Detroit. Delivery bots operated by Refraction AI have roamed bike lanes along city streets.
With a fleet of Toyota Prius V and recently launched Hyundai Sonata test mules, Yandex has already taken things further. Last month, the company began testing in Ann Arbor with no human safety drivers aboard. A video released by Yandex shows the vehicles driving through the heart of the University of Michigan’s campus and downtown.
Yandex intended to conduct such driverless testing in Innopolis, Russia, where it first launched robotaxi service two years ago with a safety driver aboard. But in Russia, regulations require a safety driver in the passenger’s seat. Michigan enacted laws in 2016 that allow driverless deployments. It’s a key reason Yandex opted to stay in Michigan.
“We are trying to use our testing locations to the fullest,” Dmitry Polischuk, head of Yandex’s self-driving car division, wrote in a blog post on Medium. “Ann Arbor, with its bigger size and more progressive regulatory environment, will enable us to take this experience a step further.”
Since 2017, the company has conducted public-street testing in Moscow, Innopolis and Skolkovo in Russia. In the U.S., it has showcased its self-driving tech in Las Vegas and Detroit with safety drivers sitting in the passenger’s seat. It also operates a small fleet in Tel Aviv.
Testing in disparate locations allows Yandex to vet its technology across a variety of weather, road and regulatory environments. In Israel, for example, Yandex says it has learned to deal with a glut of drivers who double park along narrow streets. In Moscow, it handles what it calls “chaotic” conditions where drivers frequently flout rules and speed.
In Ann Arbor? Perhaps crowds during a future college football season.
“New territories bring new challenges and new opportunities,” Polischuk wrote. “We are excited for the ones we see in Ann Arbor.”
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