Yandex to use in-house lidar for self-driving cars

The self-driving company founded by Russian technology giant Yandex said its new generation of vehicles will rely on an in-house lidar system to better see the road in the country’s often harsh driving conditions.

The software-defined lidar solution is capable of seeing 500 meters (547 yards) away and operating in frigid weather will be the main sensor on new cars from the Yandex Self-Driving Group, the company announced in a blog post Tuesday.

Yandex said its cars were previously equipped with sensors made by Velodyne Lidar, and it will continue to use those for near-field detection.

About 70 cars in Russia, the U.S. and Israel will be equipped with the sensors, which bounce light off of objects and compare the results to a 3D map in order to create a real-time image of the road.  

A likely concern for Yandex is performance and durability, “especially in cold weather conditions,” Sam Abuelsmaid, a principal analyst for e-mobility with Guidehouse Insights, said via e-mail.

Yandex’s move comes as some plans to deploy autonomous cars have stalled, despite billions of dollars in investment globally.

Alphabet’s self-driving unit, Waymo, stopped marketing its lidar to other companies and was considering both internal technology and external suppliers for its next-generation sensors, Reuters reported in August.

Ford Motor sold its stake in Velodyne last year and later announced its Argo AI self-driving startup had developed its own sensor capable of seeing 400 meters down the road with near-photographic quality.     

Abuelsamid said there have also been concerns about the quality and performance of Velodyne’s lidar, causing several companies to move away from them.

“Rotating sensors like those produced by Velodyne and Hesai have a fixed scanning pattern and that can be problematic at longer distances,” Abuelsamid said.  

Velodyne did not respond to a request for comment.

Yandex Self-Driving Group was founded in 2017 and its autonomous vehicles have driven more than 10 million miles (16.1 million km).

The company began testing lidar in 2019 and is now developing prototypes for side sensors and a version for delivery robots it operates on a handful of U.S. college campuses and for the Russian postal service.

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