Yandex’s autonomous ambitions extend beyond the automotive domain. The Moscow-based company today announced that its self-driving division — responsible for developing, testing, and deploying its driverless vehicle fleet — is piloting a robot dubbed Yandex.Rover that can deliver small packages autonomously.
Yandex’s six-wheel rover, which is roughly the size of a small suitcase, taps some of the tech at the core of Yandex’s self-driving cars to travel safely “at the speed of a pedestrian.” It’s capable of navigating around obstacles in all weather conditions during daylight or darkness, but in the area where it’s currently deployed — the over 7,000-person Yandex headquarters in Moscow — Yandex says its activities are monitored by a remote operator.
Yandex expects the rover will eventually deliver food as a part of its Yandex.Eats platform, as well as groceries from Yandex.Lavka. The rover might also make its way into the ecommerce platform Beru for order fulfillment and delivery, Yandex says, or into Yandex’s ecommerce warehouses and datacenters to transport cargo.
“Similar to the way we initially only offered self-driving car rides to Yandex employees, we are first using [the rover] with Yandex team members to ensure our delivery robot is as safe, reliable, and user-friendly as possible,” Yandex wrote in a blog post. “In the future, we envision Yandex.Rover automating last-mile delivery for millions of Yandex users, presenting an efficient and economical way to deliver goods from relevant services throughout our ecosystem.”
The autonomous delivery robot market is anticipated be worth $34 billion by 2024, up from $11.9 billion in 2018. Some analysts predict that by then thousands of autonomous drones and rovers will regularly ferry food, drink, and sundries to customers miles away.
Yandex is far from the only company vying for a slice of the segment, which counts among its ranks well-funded startups like Marble, Nuro, Robomart, Boxbot, FedEx, Postmates, Dispatch, and Robby. Earlier this year, Amazon rolled out its Scout robots to parts of Southern California, expanding the tech giant’s pilot program from Snohomish County, Washington. In August, Starship Technologies nabbed $40 million to further expand its footprint, which spans hundreds of university and corporate campuses.
Yandex appears cognizant of this activity and is leaving the door open for other companies to use its rover for “a range of shipping and delivery needs.”
“We are excited to welcome Yandex.Rover to our family of autonomous products. There’s great potential for the delivery robot to help millions of users who rely on the Yandex ecosystem to more easily navigate the online and offline world. We don’t think the road ends there either — we believe many [others] will benefit from [our delivery robot],” wrote the company.