Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev has tasked his government with creating infrastructure for driverless transport in Russia, bringing the country a step closer to the appearance of autonomous vehicles on its roads and motorways.
Volgabus and KB Avrora’s driverless Matryoshka bus in action at Skolkovo. Video: Skolkovo Foundation.
Deputy Prime Minister Arkady Dvorkovich is responsible for overseeing the rollout of IT and telecoms infrastructure required by driverless transport, starting with large cities and the north-south and east-west transport corridors, according to the resolution published on the government’s website Wednesday. He is also to supervise the use of artificial intelligence on public and cargo transport in order to improve safety on Russia’s roads, according to the resolution, which was formulated following a meeting devoted to the development of electric and driverless transport on July 21.
Much of the work on driverless technology in Russia is being carried out at the Skolkovo innovation city, which is one of few places in the country where driverless vehicles can legally be tested. Volgabus is testing its driverless Matryoshka bus inside Skolkovo, and last year signed an agreement on the creation of an R&D centre and testing ground here. KB Avrora, a resident of Skolkovo’s IT cluster that works on driverless technology and autonomous navigation systems, has been working on the Volgabus project.
KB Avrora, which was founded in 2010 by a team of engineers and programmers from Ryazan Radioengineering University, plans on developing a fully-fledged autonomous transport system at Skolkovo that will be completely integrated with the innovation city’s infrastructure.
“The project we’re working on isn’t just aimed at launching individual driverless buses, but at creating an automised transport system with charging stations, a traffic control centre, smart bus stops and other elements that will interact with one another and optimize the transport flows,” Vitaly Savelev, KB Avrora’s commercial director, said last year.
Kamaz’s electric bus recharges between journeys from the Skolkovo innovation city to Moscow. Photo: Sk.ru.
Another Skolkovo resident, RoboCV, has developed driverless technology that can frequently been seen in action at the Skolkovo Technopark. The startup’s smart autopilot system can be fitted to forklift trucks, facilitating the automation of warehouse logistics and allowing warehouse managers to monitor the exact location of any cargo at a given time. The system is already in use on forklifts at Samsung and Volkswagen plants in Russia.
Skolkovo was conceived as an eco-friendly city of the future, and once construction work on the city is complete, will be closed to vehicles with internal combustion engines. It is also home to many electric vehicle projects. An electric bus made by Russian truckmaker Kamaz, a partner company of the Skolkovo Foundation, is already in operation at the site, running between Skolkovo and Slavyansky Bulvar metro station in Moscow. Kamaz is also working on driverless technology.
In the same resolution published on Wednesday, the Ministry of Economic Development, Ministry of Trade and Industry and Ministry of Transport were tasked with taking into account the organisation of constituent elements for electric and driverless transport when developing the strategy for the development of Russia’s automobile industry through 2025. Electric vehicles, driverless cars and connected cars have been identified as the main trends and areas of development in the draft version of that strategy document.
The new orders comprise part of the Autonet section of the National Technology Initiative, a public-private partnership aimed at creating new technology markets through 2035 that President Vladimir Putin has named as a priority policy. Skolkovo plays an active role in the creation and implementation of roadmaps for each area of the National Technology Initiative, and is also home to startups working on the development of flying cars.
Optogard Nanotech, a resident startup of the Skolkovo Foundation, has raised 110 million rubles ($1.8 million) in financing from Garant, a group investing in industrial projects. Under the terms of the deal, the investors and company founders have become partners, giving Garant a stake in the company.
Pavel Smirnov, general director of Optogard Nanotech, which develops laser-plasma technology. Photo: Sk.ru.
Optogard Nanotech has developed a laser-plasma technology for strengthening the surfaces of metals and alloys, such as the inside of pipes. The project with Garant will see the assembly from scratch of a multifunctional laser-plasma operations line, its industrial test launch and later move to the Nizhny Novgorod region.
“The key success of the deal is that the company is not just gaining a source of financing in its investors, but fully-fledged members of the team,” said Pavel Smirnov, general director of Optogard Nanotech, a resident of Skolkovo’s advanced manufacturing, nuclear and space technologies cluster.
“Our agreement shows that a culture is appearing in Russia of investing in hi-tech industrial projects. Ultimately, this will lead to Russian industry getting on the track to innovative development,” he said.
The project with Garant is being carried out on the premises of the Institute of Laser Physics of the Siberian branch of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Optogard Nanotech is already training specialists there who will later use the technology at industrial production lines, and is looking for premises for the latter.
Anton Pushkov, managing partner at Skolkovo’s Intellectual Property Centre. Photo: Sk.ru.
Investing in Optogard Nanotech’s project is a logical move towards the innovative development of Russian industry, said Elena Grechikhina, financial director at Garant.
“We appreciated the project’s potential and the Optogard team’s level of professionalism, so our decision to become active participants in this project wasn’t long in coming,” she said.
“Our aim is not just to make a profit, but to launch full-scale, highly profitable innovative manufacturing based on Optogard’s laser-plasma technology. We see great potential in the creation of laser-plasma facilities, and plan to actively introduce them to various branches of industry both in Russia and on foreign markets,” she added.
Skolkovo’s Intellectual Property Centre (IPC) helped to structure the deal and provided legal support for it throughout the process.
“The deal was simple on one hand, and incredibly complex on the other,” said Anton Pushkov, a managing partner of the IPC.
“The simplicity lay in the investors’ interest in concluding the deal, the speed with which they took decisions, and their lack of impossible or unreasonable demands regarding the Skolkovo startup. The complexity lay in the serious sum of target financing being provided by the investors, which required meticulous work on each document relating to the deal to make sure the interests of each side were being taking into account,” said Pushkov.