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How Russia is betting big on self-driving tech

When thinking of the global race for self-driving technologies, most people think about Alphabet’s Waymo, Baidu’s RoboTaxi or Tesla. But Russia is, perhaps surprisingly, also catching up on this competition, betting big on self-driving technology.

Cognitive Pilot, a tech start-up backed by Russia’s largest bank Sberbank, has ambitious plans involving the roads of Europe and the United States. Its plans for 2023 are worth an estimated US$4 billion, with a potential initial public offering (IPO) afterward.

Powered by artificial intelligence, machine learning technology allows vehicles to drive down the road without user input. Research suggests the global autonomous vehicle market was valued at $54.23 billion in 2019, and is projected to increase more than tenfold, hitting the $556.67 billion mark by 2026.

“We are now at the forefront of an automotive revolution,” said Olga Uskova, Founder of Cognitive Technologies, the parent company of Cognitive Pilot.

“Self-driving technologies transform the lives of millions of individuals and robotics engineering will redefine modern-day transportation in ways previously thought impossible.”

Teaming up with Hyundai

The capacity of driving automation can be classified from entirely human-operated vehicles at level zero to fully autonomous vehicles at level 5, according to the Society of Automotive Engineers (SAE) and the US Department of Transportation’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

At level 4, Cognitive Pilot’s technology is highly automated but requires a driver to step in when unforeseen circumstances arise. Given the specific conditions of the Russian market, Uskova highlighted that the main advantage of her company’s technology is the endurance to extreme weather.

“The majority of the world’s road conditions are nothing compared to the ones you find in California. Our scientists are developing and testing our autonomous driving system that works under extreme weather and road conditions,” Uskova added.

Cognitive Pilot has a license in Russia and the European Union and the company is in the process of getting a license in the US.

Last September Cognitive Pilot also announced a partnership with South Korean Hyundai Mobis on developing a software module. With this computer vision-based software module, the vehicle is capable of recognizing moving objects such as other vehicles and pedestrians.

Embrace self-driving cars

While the world has yet to see a true self-driving car at level 5, Uskova believed that a new era of autonomous vehicles was approaching faster than many of us think. But she cautioned that policymakers across the globe need to review the regulatory framework for a smooth transition to the brave new world of self-driving.

In the US, Uskova saw the most advanced way to regulate autonomous vehicles and she believed the American experience of allowing the use of driverless cars on public roads was very important for all AI developers around the world.

Last month, NHTSA in the US proposed rules for self-driving cars for the first time. The proposal covers “the requirements and test procedures to account for the removal of manually-operated driving controls” with also amendments on rules for occupant protection, side-impact protection and other aspects.

Despite the technological breakthrough fueled by this global race for self-driving innovation, Uskova saw a long and winding road ahead on the regulation front: “A complete transition to self-driving cars in the world may take a decade or 12 years to develop new traffic rules, moral restrictions and legislative norms for mixed car flows.

“This is a very important issue, just as much as the use of nuclear technology for non-military purposes.”

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