In a troubling incident over the weekend, a Waymo self-driving car fell victim to vandalism and arson at the hands of a mob in San Francisco’s vibrant Chinatown district. Amidst the joyful Lunar New Year festivities, this shocking attack represents a troubling surge in aggression toward autonomous vehicles across the nation.
Chaos on the Streets
Eyewitnesses painted a vivid picture of chaos as individuals converged on the white Waymo SUV, identified as a Jaguar I-Pace electric vehicle, and unleashed their fury. Michael Vandi, one such witness, described on twitter how what began as celebratory fireworks swiftly descended into a frenzy of destruction. Videos shared by Vandi captured the harrowing moment when assailants leaped onto the vehicle’s hood, shattering its windshield. The mob then proceeded to deface the car with skateboards and graffiti, turning celebration into chaos.
Firework Ignites Disaster
The situation took a perilous turn when a lit firework was callously hurled into the vehicle, triggering a devastating inferno that consumed the car in flames. Despite valiant efforts by the fire department to quell the blaze, the damage inflicted was substantial, leaving a charred wreckage in its wake.
Waymo, the pioneering company behind the self-driving technology, swiftly responded to the incident, confirming that the vehicle was unoccupied at the time of the attack. Sandy Karp, a spokesperson for Waymo, emphasized the company’s full cooperation with local authorities in their investigation. Yet, despite their efforts, the motive behind this senseless act remains elusive.
Escalating Hostility Towards Autonomous Vehicles
This brazen attack serves as a stark reminder of the escalating hostility directed toward self-driving technology. Similar incidents in San Francisco and Phoenix have seen disruptive actions ranging from attempts to impede vehicle movement to outright physical assaults.
Pattern of Incidents
The assault on the Waymo vehicle follows a troubling pattern of incidents involving autonomous vehicles. Just days prior, another Waymo vehicle was involved in a collision with a cyclist, resulting in minor injuries. This incident echoes a more serious accident in October, where a pedestrian was struck by a different self-driving vehicle and dragged.
Strained Relations Between Residents and Automated Vehicle Operators
San Francisco has emerged as a battleground in the conflict between residents and companies deploying autonomous vehicles. Following a pedestrian-related incident, operations for Waymo’s competitor, Cruise, were suspended by the California Department of Motor Vehicles. Moreover, vocal opposition from residents has manifested in acts of protest and vandalism.
The destruction inflicted upon the Waymo self-driving car in San Francisco’s Chinatown underscores the formidable challenges confronting companies operating in the autonomous vehicle industry. As technology progresses, the crucial task of fostering public acceptance becomes increasingly daunting.
In the aftermath of this disturbing event, authorities grapple with probing questions of motive and accountability. Meanwhile, Waymo and other industry players are compelled to reassess their strategies for integrating self-driving vehicles into urban landscapes, navigating a delicate balance between innovation and community harmony.