Olga Uskova: ''Robot revolution is held around the world, while we pretend to be existing separately from it all''
Expert over self-driving car market in Russia, robot revolution and export of Russian geniuses abroad
These days Director General of KAMAZ Sergey Kogogin announced the company's intention to launch an unmanned minibus for transportation of guests and participants of the 2018 World Football Cup. In general, we've often heard about plans to launch some unmanned vehicle and build special roads for the ''cars of the future'' in Russia in recent months. However, it would be curious to know what's happening in this sector in fact. Expert in autonomous driving systems, President of Cognitive Technologies Olga Uskova agreed to tell Realnoe Vremya about it.
''There is no movement now''
Mrs Uskova, could you specify whether Russia has an assembled unmanned car now that could be used if there is necessary infrastructure?
Everything depends on what we call an unmanned car. There is no fully unmanned car either in Russia or other countries. Such cars will appear in the world (and in Russia, I hope) no sooner than 2025-2030. However, partial autonomy has been achieved now: there is a version of a car with the third ADS level: when the car can move without a driver in a traffic jam or along the highway.
Speaking about the infrastructure: how many years do you think Russia it will take to create it?
This question is one of the most complicated ones for me. We started to speak about the infrastructure as early as 4 years ago. But as nothing has changed since then, I can't answer your question. Maybe we'll need an endless number of years?
''Everything depends on what we call an unmanned car. There is no fully unmanned car either in Russia or other countries. Such cars will appear in the world (and in Russia, I hope) no sooner than 2025-2030.'' Photo: kamaz.ru (unmanned KAMAZ tests)
There is no movement now. Yes, there are speeches (in addition, of very respected people). However, a corresponding commission hasn't been created in the Duma, the Ministry of Industry and Trade still doesn't have a programme, the Ministry of Transport is doing nothing. Nothing is happening.
We are already falling behind a lot. What's more, I'm not talking about not only advanced western countries, China and Japan but also less cool Finland, Sweden, Germany and Korea.
Is the window of opportunities for Russia closing? Will we have the time to succeed?
We have no time in such a working regime. If there is a very powerful impulse – people will change or they will urgently need to make everything quickly – it will take 2 years to fulfil such a programme with a very intense work. In general, if we consider that cars with unmanned functions will massively be on roads of Europe in 2019 (Audi and BMW have already announced it), we will be late, but a bit. The more it will drag on, the more we will fall behind from a perspective of modern infrastructure.
''The whole world understands that a robot revolution is held in the transport industry''
In this situation, statements of the Russian Road Agency that it is planned to prepare parts of Russian roads for movement of unmanned cars in the next years sound unbelievable.
There is a big difference between a public speech and real preparation of the issue. So the real preparation includes technological, information, expert and engineering aspects. I perfectly understand that money hasn't been given for it, there wasn't significant cooperation with real experts on this issue… In my opinion, it is a purely populist format to demonstrate that they are up to date.
It will take several years to fulfil such a project – to prepare the road. It means the project needs to have already been officially launched. It means some auctions to attract subcontractors need to already open. It seems to me that it's quite a serious topic for investigative journalism: let's separate those who really work and invest in the project from those who promote themselves and get political points against the background.
''At the level of PR, report to the president and speeches at international conferences, our structures have already hit all trends – they do well. There is absolutely nothing at the level of launching certain federal target programmes.'' Photo: kremlin.ru
What relations do official structures have with the self-driving car market, in general?
It seems to me that the peak of difficulty is now from a perspective of the situation inside Russia. At the level of PR, report to the president and speeches at international conferences, our structures have already hit all trends – they deliver speeches well. There is absolutely nothing at the level of launching certain federal target programmes.
Does it mean that the legislative part is not discussed now?
Correct. As there is no financing structure, there is no responsible body. In general, the recent event in Skolkovo has been the egregious moment. We had a round-table talk with one of the directors of the Fund of Prospective Research who announced that regulation of this market was the very market's task. In his opinion, people need to cooperate and regulate law for themselves and so on. For me, it is a clear statement because the organisation of road traffic rules and insurance regulation has never been issues of the market only. This sphere has always been and is a prerogative of a country around the world.
The country exists to regulate – for this reason, we pay taxes and hire functionaries. The organisational situation in this new market is critical. We shifted to an alarming state from a great window of opportunities that was three years ago. It seems that we'll be having an interview that Russia left the map of advanced technologies in robotics for transport flows very soon.
The whole world understands that revolutionary changes are taking place now, that a robot revolution is held in the transport industry. The whole world is busy with these issues, while we pretend to be existing separately from it all. It reminds me the position of the Provisional Government in 1917 before Aurora's salvo – when people shut their eyes and ears, don't want to participate and see obvious things.
''Now these guys are creating young companies. But there is no demand inside the country, if there is no normal support, they will be very quickly purchased in the West because there are no mathematicians and programmes of such a level.'' Photo: incrussia.ru
''It is not just a desire to deliver a lecture at the Moscow State University, it is a hunt''
Are there many companies in Russia now that are creating autonomous driving systems? You wrote on Facebook that the authorities lost our market and our developers in the 90s. This is why there is an impression of a scorched field.
I wrote that we did not need to repeat the experience of 1996 now, and now our situation is as follows: our market of car makers will completely close by 2030 if there is no strategy that was created to shift to new technologies of Russian developers.
As for developers, now we have a great deal of young collectives. The generation that programmes and creates neuron networks, perfectly knows artificial intelligence and shows great results in international competitions and at Olympics has grown up in Russia. Now, these guys are creating young companies. But there is no demand inside the country, if there is no normal support, they will be very quickly purchased in the West because there are no mathematicians and programmes of such a level there.
Visits of heads of leading foreign IT companies that became frequent (despite the sanctions) is not just a desire to deliver a lecture at the Moscow State University, it is a hunt. They already start to accumulate our genius young for their markets.
If we are talking about the world in the next 10 years and its main resource, we can tell as much as we can that we are having leading positions thanks to the armament and wise management. But we don't have a modern industrial strategy. We can't have leading positions without a Russian production of smart goods.
''For Russia, it's a strategic question of further existence. And existing as a resource colony means planning a catastrophe in 30-40 years and dooming your kids and grandchildren to it.'' Photo: nts-samara.ru
''It is very difficult to build a systematic business when there is no country''
Back to the topic of the 90s and loss of our developers: how did you manage to survive?
It's a complicated question. We considered that situation negatively but at the same time like something was changing. We understood it was a change, a transition period, if we influenced it somehow, it would end one day. It was such healthy anger – we wanted something to happen in this country. It was quite possible to survive by working in such a regime, with a strong collective and healthy production base.
Now the situation is a bit different: Perestroika ended, the society exists quite stable. However, the institutions that were built don't help the new economy. Many people are asking themselves now: ''To go on here or is it impossible?'' Anyway, if you want to develop some new area, you need to do it in a country where it's possible, in a country where there is a legislature, support, etc. For Russia, it's a strategic question of further existence. And existing as a resource colony means planning a catastrophe in 30-40 years and dooming your kids and grandchildren to it.
What did the technological business of Russia in the 90s look like? Was it clashes with crime, attempts of security officials to have a slice of the cake? What was it?
Let's start with advantages. The Soviet Union is a very powerful economy in many areas, anyway. And big production highbrow slices still continued existing out of inertia during the collapse. Unique developments existed, and one could try to run a business with it: there were manufacturers of amazing scanners, there were former missile men who made unique radars, there were people who created great graphics editors. It was a raw Klondike that could be mastered.
The second advantage is that it was a period of internal blossom. People hoped that Perestroika and troublesome time would end and they would be able to create a situation around themselves. It requires a lot of effort. And not everybody saw the premiere, roughly speaking, but it was a real drive in the society. People probably did not know but they wanted. Now the situation is opposite.
''At one point when western manufacturers want to sell in our country well, they will lobby a law that will be comfortable for them in the Duma. We will be on the second place even legally, we won't collect taxes from new products because they drive on our roads, and we'll be given game rules that are comfortable for them.'' Photo: asmo.ru
While drawbacks are standard: the collapsed power group that had no budgets, that quarrelled inside and organised systematic bullying and backup. It was a big load for an erecting business, a bloody load. In case of strong dislike or refusal, people were killed. By the way, now nobody counts how many young, workable people died from 1989 to 2000. I think the digits were significant.
I'm not Yeltsin's fan but I think that everything what happened in that period was an endless number of mistakes. This regime of the group of seven bankers when the country was ruled by oligarchic groupings, in fact, almost led to the destruction of the country. And it is very difficult to build a systematic business when there is no country – it's impossible to agree on stable game rules.
Mrs Uskova, summing up our conversation, I will remember Dave Waiser's recent forecast. He stated that unmanned cars would be driving on roads of cities around the world in 5-7 years already. Can this forecast be applied to our country?
I think that at one point when western manufacturers want to sell in our country well, they will lobby a law that will be comfortable for them in the Duma. We will be on the second place even legally, we won't collect taxes from new products because they drive on our roads, and we'll be given game rules that are comfortable for them. Judging by how the government is working in this area now, the situation will precisely so.