Yandex and Uber are spinning out their self-driving joint venture into a standalone company, with the Russian tech giant increasing its stake by investing an additional $150 million.
The two former rivals merged their ride-hailing operations in Russia and parts of Eastern Europe back in 2017. Now that the Self Driving Group is a separate company, Yandex will have a 73% stake, Uber will have 19%, and the balance will be owned by Yandex managers and employees.
The move comes amid predictions that the development of fully autonomous vehicles will take much longer than widely anticipated. Yandex appears to be challenging such doubts by taking a much more aggressive approach to building its self-driving technology.
“From our perspective, the message is quite clear,” said Artem Fokin, head of business development for the company now known as Yandex Self Driving Group. “By spinning off our business into a separate entity, the company demonstrates its belief that what we’re doing right now has huge potential to become a successful business going forward. This is no longer just an experiment.”
In a press release, Yandex, which started as a search engine before expanding into several other markets, said the self-driving unit had previously attracted $65 million in investments. The company made a splash when it launched a robo-taxi service in 2018, and it currently has 130 vehicles spread out over Russia, Israel, and the United States. Most recently, Yandex began a testing program of its fourth-generation AV in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
While the standalone company will have a greater degree of independence, it will also continue to draw on its parent companies’ technology.
“Our goals as an organization remain the same,” Fokin said. “Being independent may give us more flexibility.”
While Yandex started with cars, its overall focus is developing autonomous technology so it can be used in other vehicles. For instance, the company adapted the technology to create an autonomous delivery robot called Yandex Rover to enable last-mile deliveries to homes and offices.
Fokin said the rover is now making deliveries in central Moscow and in a science park outside the city. “There’s a lot of interest by outside partners for food delivery,” he said.
While the company isn’t specifically working on autonomous trucks, Fokin emphasized that it’s been able to adapt its autonomous platform to different vehicles in about 6 months. That’s allowing Yandex to experiment with the best use cases and settings that will turn its autonomous investments into an actual business.
“It’s not a question of when,” he said. “It’s more a question of where. The technology is ready to provide services in easy locations.”