Yandex claims 2 million self-driving car miles, double in 4 months

Yandex claims that its autonomous cars have driven 2 million miles to date, double the figure it reported in October and 4 times the number announced in August. The Russian tech titan revealed the latest milestone in its Q4 2019 financials earlier today.

Additionally, Yandex shared for the first time that it has invested $35 million in its self-driving program since its inception, $24 million in last year and $9 million in the fourth quarter alone.

By way of a brief recap, Yandex’s on-demand transport subsidiary, Yandex.Taxi, unveiled its self-driving car program back in May, 2017, shortly before it began piloting the vehicles on Moscow’s roads. In the intervening years, the company has expanded its fleet across Russia and Israel (Tel Aviv) and to the U.S. (Las Vegas), while it also laid claim to being the first public autonomous ride-hailing service when it launched a pilot in the Russian town of Innopolis back in 2018.

Doubling its self-driving miles to 2 million in just four months, after taking two years to reach its first million, is quite a growth trajectory. However, a major contributing factor has been the rapid expansion of its fleet, which grew nearly 10 times to 110 driverless vehicles in all markets last year.

Metrics

“Miles-driven” has emerged as a key metric of progress and safety in the race to put autonomous vehicles on roads at scale, with Alphabet’s self-driving car unit Waymo recently announcing it had passed 20 million miles. However, many have questioned the wisdom of relying on this metric alone. For example, driving 1 million miles on the same 100-mile stretch of road won’t teach software how to navigate diverse conditions.

The context in which the miles are driven is integral to establishing reliable safety metrics, which is partly why Yandex has expanded its program to cover different locales around the world. However, Yandex doesn’t break out the so-called “disengagement” rate, which is defined as when the safety driver has to take over from autonomous mode. It can be useful to know this number, because the lower the disengagement rate, the better the software will likely be at managing tricky “edge cases” on the road. Again, disengagement rates aren’t a perfect safety indicator either, as the context of the environment and road conditions are relevant — but it’s still a useful signal when assessing the progress of self-driving car systems.

So Yandex’s latest milestone should be taken with a grain of salt. But while the industry awaits better progress and safety metrics, miles-driven goes some way toward highlighting the resources a company is putting into their autonomous vehicle programs. For Yandex, that translates roughly into 500,000 miles every two months.

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