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Yandex Autonomous Cars Go for a Drive in the Snow

Winter driving competence is a prerequisite for autonomous vehicles in Russia.

Russian tech firm Yandex just took over Uber’s ride-sharing operations in its home country, but the company isn’t stopping there. Like its American counterpart, Yandex has its own self-driving car development program, and it appears to be making progress.

Yandex released a new video of its two Toyota Prius V development mules driving around in snowy conditions. Winter weather is challenging for self-driving cars not only because of reduced traction but because snow can obscure the lane markings autonomous vehicles rely on as a visual cue to orient themselves. Winter capability is particularly important for Yandex, which hopes to develop an autonomous ride-sharing service in Russia, a country known for harsh winters.

The conditions Yandex’s self-driving cars negotiate in this video aren’t exactly extreme; at times there isn’t even any snow on the roads. The cars perform basic functions like avoiding other vehicles and pedestrians and making smooth stops. With so many companies testing self-driving cars, it’s more a demonstration of minimal competence than of technological boundaries being pushed.

For self-driving cars to replace human drivers, it goes without saying that they will have to function in all kinds of weather. With most U.S. autonomous-car testing taking place in and around Silicon Valley, winter weather is not something most cars will encounter on a daily basis. But companies are accounting for that.

Ford and General Motors test self-driving cars year round in Michigan and Ford has already conducted dedicated snow testing. Waymo will bring some of its autonomous Chrysler Pacifica Hybrid minivans to Michigan this winter for testing as well. To improve the technology, autonomous cars dashing through the snow will have to become a more common sight.