The Russian government plans to make the development of unmanned cars one of its priorities in the field of transportation within the next several years, according to recent statements of an official spokesman of the Russian Prime Minister and other senior state officials.
As part of these plans, the government has already given a green light for the conduction of tests of autonomous vehicles on the roads of the Moscow city later in 2020.
Autonomous Vehicles Tests
As of February 2020, Yandex, a Russian multinational corporation specializing in internet-related products and services, has established a driverless vehicle fleet of 110 units, and has a license to test driverless vehicles in Israel and will begin tests in the United States in the summer of 2020.
Yandex has become one of a few companies in Russia that announced its intention to expand in the segment of autonomous cars.
So far, similar plans have been expressed by at least six companies, operating in Russia, among which are the local truck maker Kamaz, the GAZ Group, as well as some research institutions in this field.
In the case of GAZ Group, an iconic Soviet and Russian automaker, the company has recently started the development of an unmanned version of its GAZelle LCV. Currently the company conducts tests of the new vehicle on a special proving ground.
Various scenarios are being worked out and control systems are being tested to ensure the accurate operation of the car in difficult conditions, according to the company.
Natalya Anisimova, corporate affairs director of GAZ Group, confirmed the ongoing tests.
“The currently tested prototypes of unmanned cars are equipped with various environmental management and monitoring systems. These are the classic LIDAR systems, as well as systems which are built entirely on the serial automobile components of ADAS (radars, cameras, ultrasonic sensors),” said Anisimova. “The autopilot systems use the latest developments, designed in the engineering center of the GAZ Group in conjunction with the major research partner – the Nizhny Novgorod State Technical University. These are algorithms for determining the boundaries of the carriageway in the absence of marking, a mathematical modeling system and optimization of the trajectory, etc. All the prototypes are tested at the site of the enterprise and at the Skolkovo Technopark. The most important result of the conducted tests is that the elements of the autopilot system could be used for the assembly of traditional cars. These are mainly elements that provide the implementation of ADAS functions.”
Regarding Kamaz, the company currently continues tests of its unmanned truck and electric bus. In the case of the truck, the company said it will be capable to drive on specified routes without driver assistance and will be based on its KamAZ-5350 model.
The new truck will have an artificial intelligence system, that will provide it an opportunity to distinguish road markings, signs, and other road users, including pedestrians.
For electric buses, at the end of last year, Kamaz successfully completed tests of its 12-seater unmanned electric bus, which is known as ShATL and which is built on the KamAZ-1221 platform.
In the meantime, the Russian government is aware of the current developments and is planning to provide additional support to leading domestic companies working in this field.
The support will be mainly through the development of legislative framework for the industry, which will regulate the use of unmanned vehicles in Russia and their certification.
Implementation of these plans will be part of the recently approved state strategy for road safety in Russia, which regulates the current experiment for unmanned cars in the country.
So far, the government has already submitted a bill, which is known as “On experimental operation of innovative vehicles” to the Russian Parliament (State Duma), that will be positioned as basis legislative act of the industry.
The new bill will create the needed legal base for the use of unmanned vehicles within the territory of Russia, said Sergei Zhigarev - a chairman of the Duma’s Committee of Economic Policy and one of the main authors of the bill.
Under its terms, a special federal executive body will be established to implement the legal regulation of the industry. At the same time, the bill will also establish the procedure for issuing permits for the tests of such cars on the Russian highways and requirements for the minimum insurance, which should be paid in the case of road accidents with their participation.
The Russian market of unmanned cars has a big potential for growth, which is expected to be achieved already in the short term, noted Zhigarev.
“Most likely at the initial stage these unmanned cars will be used for freight transportations, while later could be applied to passengers’ services,” said Zhigarev. “We expect the demand for such cars in Russia will grow in years to come, while in order to remain competitive in this area, a clear industry law should be adopted.”
Zhigarev also added that the government has plans to create the necessary infrastructure for the industry, particularly special “smart” roads with a good surface.
Attention will be also paid toward the improvement of Russian driver behavior and raising awareness about autonomous vehicles. Creating awareness is considered very important by the state as the concept of autonomous vehicles remain a generally unknown and foreign concept for most Russian citizens.
From its side, the government will also improve the procedure to certify autonomous vehicles.
In the meantime, most of the companies operating in this field and analysts have already welcomed the latest state plans and have considered the prospects for the development of autonomous vehicles in Russia as very optimistic.
There are only three companies in the world which have achieved a big progress in this field: Google, Uber, and Cruise, according to Tigran Khudoverdyan, CEO of Yandex.Taxi, a subsidiary of Yandex.
He added that Yandex has also recently achieved success in this field.
“Our company, was able to design its own technology of unmanned cars and I believe it could be also competitive in the international arena, along with the developments of major Western rivals,” said Khudoverdyan.
At the initial stage, the unmanned cars Yandex plans to launch will probably be used as taxis, though the area of their application will be significantly expanded later.
So far, Yandex has probably achieved the biggest success in the field of unmanned cars in Russia, although it hasn’t limited itself to Russia.
Several months ago, it received a license to test unmanned vehicles in Israel, while in January 2019 the company successfully demonstrated its unmanned car during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) held in Nevada. The car, which is built on the Toyota Prius platform, has attracted a big interest both from participants and visitors of the show.
In the short-term, Yandex plans to expand its fleet of unmanned cars by producing a new model based on the Hyundai Sonata.
In the meantime, leading Russian analysts in the field of automotive business consider autonomous vehicles as a very promising direction for Russia.
According to Igor Morgaretto, one of Russia’s leading automotive experts and a senior partner of the Russian analyst agency Avtostat, the biggest benefits could be brought in the case of using the technology for freight transportation. Such trucks are already being developed by some global automakers, including Volvo and Tesla, he added.