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illustration of an autonomous car

Who's Driving?

Russia and Korea meet on Ann Arbor streets.

by James M. Manheim

From the October, 2020 issue

Maybe you've seen Hyundai Sonatas with no one behind the wheel on Ann Arbor streets lately, and wondered where they came from. Well--the Russians are coming.

The cars are a test project by the Russian Internet giant Yandex, which operates a search engine and some seventy other services. Yandex has been developing autonomous vehicles in partnership with Uber since 2016, and in September announced plans to spin the program off as a separate company.

The Sonatas reflect another partnership, with Hyundai. A photo on Facebook showed one intruding a bit on a crosswalk at a red light, but so far no incidents have made news.

Why Ann Arbor? A company spokesperson told Forbes that we're one of the few cities that allows autonomous vehicles to operate with no one in the driver's seat--its only similarly tolerant testing site is Innopolis, a newly created "high tech city" on the Volga River. Yandex also has vehicles on the road in Moscow and Tel Aviv, but those cities require a safety driver.

The company had announced plans to have totally autonomous vehicles, without steering wheels or pedals, on the road by 2024, though the coronavirus pandemic may delay that. Meanwhile, if you'd like a passenger's-eye view of one of the Sonatas in action on Ann Arbor streets for an hour, dodging campus-area cyclists and drivers who change their minds, there's one on YouTube at     (end of article)

[Originally published in October, 2020.]


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