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Russia’s Sberbank pushes into driverless cars with AI joint venture

State-run Sberbank, Russia’s largest lender, is expanding its high-tech offerings through a new investment in driverless cars with AI transport start-up Cognitive Technologies, the bank said on Thursday.

Sberbank will take a 30 per cent stake in Cognitive Pilot, a joint venture led by Cognitive Technologies’ chief executive Olga Uskova and majority-owned by the start-up’s top management. The new company will “develop digital economy projects in transportation, agriculture, computer vision and artificial intelligence,” Sberbank said. Moscow-based Cognitive Technologies has partnered companies including Hyundai, Russia’s railway monopoly, and agribusiness Rusagro to develop technology for self-driving cars, trains and industrial equipment. Sberbank did not disclose the amount of the investment or the valuation of the joint venture. The deal marks Sberbank’s latest venture away from banking into a digital “ecosystem” that chief executive Herman Gref says is vital to diversifying away from financial services. Sberbank has spent more than $1bn on new companies including a taxi and food delivery joint venture with Mail.ru, digital media company Rambler, and grocery delivery company Instamart. It also indicates Sberbank plans to intensify competition with search giant Yandex after agreeing last week to hand over a “golden share” in the company to a new Kremlin-backed non-profit foundation. Yandex, Russia’s leading self-driving car developer, has driven its vehicles more than 1m miles in Moscow and Tel Aviv, and received a licence to begin testing them in the US next summer. The companies have fought over the direction of Yandex Market, their ecommerce joint venture, so badly that they have discussed changing its capital structure to give one side clear control. Mr Gref, a member of Yandex’s board, did not participate in its meetings for a year, according to people familiar with the matter. Yandex has suggested Sberbank’s competing investments may require Mr Gref to recuse himself from some board matters.

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