''Unmanned vehicle is more reliable than a driver who bought the license''

The first passenger of the unmanned taxi was Rustam Minnikhanov, and the second — a correspondent of Realnoe Vremya

''Unmanned vehicle is more reliable than a driver who bought the license'' Photo: Oleg Tikhonov

The unmanned taxi was launched in Innopolis on August 27. A Toyota Hybrid will drive between five points and give a lift to local residents. According to representatives of Yandex, this is the first unmanned taxi in Europe, plying the city streets. The movement in Innopolis can not be called lively, nevertheless legally it is a city, so Yandex does not exaggerate when speaking of the first in Europe. The first passenger of the unnamed taxi was Rustam Minnikhanov, and the second — a correspondent of Realnoe Vremya.

The first unmanned taxi in Europe

The unmanned vehicle is externally different from the driver piloted one by the design on the roof. There is a lidar – the laser radar, which accurately reads the situation within a radius of 50 metres. Lidar is the basis of all unmanned vehicles and the most expensive device. Its cost is 50,000 dollars, with such prices the mass unmanned vehicle cannot be widespread yet.

Part of the trunk space is occupied by the computer, the gear shift knob is equipped with a red button — emergency shutdown of the autopilot. The same button, but not stationary, is in the hands of a Yandex test engineer. Although the car is called unmanned, but in the cabin, except for passengers, there is always a human being. There have not been incidents with the unmanned taxi, but they do not trust the robot fully yet.

''A year ago, we began an experiment with unmanned technologies and could not think that just in a year we will bring an unmanned vehicle to the road. This summer, our car for the first time drove in the automatic mode almost 800 kilometres from Moscow to Kazan. Now we are launching the unmanned taxi, and it may seem that it will take many years before unmanned vehicles come to all roads of the country. But we are sure that in the next few years they will be used in public transport, car sharing or, for example, taxi. This will make transportation cheaper, more affordable, and most importantly, safer,'' says Elena Bunina, CEO of Yandex in Russia.

''It is the qualities of the best driver — that I felt''

Yandex is so confident in the safety of the unmanned car that they risked to give the first ride to the president of Tatarstan. Rustam Minnikhanov as a professional driver and IT lover appreciated the machine and compared it with the best driver.

''Until I tried it, it seemed that it is something impossible. I am 100% sure that this will be a common occurrence in the next few years. I am convinced that the unmanned vehicle is more reliable than a driver who bought the license somewhere, we have a lot of such. I can drive a car professionally and can appreciate how smoothly the whole system works. These are the qualities of the best driver — that I felt. All turns, all other things are very comfortable and reliable, so I recommend to use it,'' Minnikhanov answered the question of Realnoe Vremya about the impressions of the first trip.

Minnikhanov said that the first time he rode in an unmanned vehicle 3 years ago at the KAMAZ test site, the auto giant is also working in this direction. Kazan residents and visitors to the city could assess the invention during the World Cup, when an unmanned bus from KAMAZ drove people in a straight line at a speed of 10 km per hour, many then joked that the shuttle was inserted the filling of a vacuum cleaner robot.

''Innopolis is the most modern city, it should correspond to its name, and we are grateful to our partners who work with us. It is 5 points so far, then 10, then how many it is needed. Our main task is to show that in our country we are no worse than others. Europe has not have such things yet. It is important for us to work out all this system, next year we host the world championship in working professions, we hope that not only Innopolis, but also residents of Kazan will be able to use the opportunities of unmanned vehicles,'' Minnikhanov said.

Legalizing unmanned vehicles

The unmanned taxi can drive with the maximum speed allowed on this section of the road, yields to pedestrians, recognizes and bypasses obstacles. The correspondent of Realnoe Vremya was given a ride as a passenger and made sure that the driver-robot is too cautious on the road… or just obediently comply with all traffic rules? Before each pedestrian crossing it reduces the speed, even if pedestrians are not in sight. It stops before the sign ''Give way'', even if ''the main road'' is empty. It slows down, if it sees a car parked by the side of the road — ''because people can appear from it'', a test engineer explains the actions of his digital partner.

At the sight of a person on the road or on the roadside, the unmanned car falls into a stupor. It has no functions to click on the horn to make the pedestrian scared, jumped up and ran off the road, so the car stops and waits until the interference moves to a safe distance. In general, the movement seemed comfortable and safe, and the fact that the steering wheel turns by itself, did not stress. Recently, passengers do not even notice real taxi drivers — all the attention to a smartphone, so the replacement of people with robots, when unmanned taxis get to the real roads, will be invisible and will be painless.

The taxi in Innopolis runs between five points so far — the main objects of the city, so it is more like a bus. The bot receives calls, but before that everyone who wants to use the service signs an agreement that they know that the unmanned taxi operates in the test mode, and agree with the possible risks. If an accident happens, which is unlikely, given the ''busy'' traffic in Innopolis, Yandex promised to bear the entire responsibility. As expected, the car is given the insurance certificate with the engineer as authorized driver. But in general, there are no laws regulating unmanned vehicles, and this, along with the high cost of equipment, prevents the spread of unmanned vehicles on the roads.

''The legislation has not been adopted yet, and we are working with government agencies on how to develop this base. Such thing has never existed, so we have to elaborate the legislation from scratch,'' says Elena Bunina.

Yandex and the government of Tatarstan have signed an agreement on the development of unmanned transport in the republic in Innopolis. It provides for the creation of a test zone for the movement of the car in Innopolis — this will be the first step towards the legalization of unmanned vehicles in cities.

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By Daria Turtseva. Photo: Oleg Tikhonov. Video: Daria Turtseva
Tatarstan