A citizen vandalizes Waymo’s driverless car and many others follow him, setting it on fire, and the phenomenon is not isolated. Is this a new era of Luddism?
An episode of extreme vandalism has struck the heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown, marking a new page in the already tense relations between the city and automated vehicle companies. Around 9pm (local time) yesterday, an individual decided to jump on the hood of a Waymo driverless taxi, and then shattered its windshield. The act generated spontaneous applause among those present, before the situation quickly escalated: a crowd formed around the vehicle, covering it in spray paint, breaking the windows and, finally, setting it on fire. Despite the timely intervention of the firefighters, who arrived a few minutes later, the flames had already completely engulfed the car.
The causes behind this act of vandalism remain unclear at the moment. Sandy Karp, a representative for Waymo, said the fully autonomous car was “not carrying passengers” at the time of the attack, during which fireworks were thrown into the car, sparking the flames. . San Francisco Police Department public information officer Robert Rueca confirmed that law enforcement responded “at approximately 8:50 p.m. to find the car already in flames, adding that there were no were “reports of injuries”.
A video posted by YouTube channel FriscoLive415 shows the charred wreckage of Waymo’s electric Jaguar taxi, a symbol of growing tension between San Francisco residents and operators of automated vehicles. The suspension of operations of rival robotaxi Cruise by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, following an accident in which one of its vehicles hit and dragged a pedestrian last year, and previous episodes in which automated taxis caused chaos by blocking traffic or colliding with a fire engine, fuel the debate on the safety and appropriateness of these services in urban life.
The opposition of city officials and some residents to the 24/7 operation of these cars, also manifested through symbolic gestures such as the placement of orange cones on the hoods of vehicles, highlights community resistance to the imposition of this technology. The incident of vandalism fits into a broader context of challenges that technology companies face in deploying their devices in public space, a phenomenon that sees historical precedents from the destruction of shared bicycles to episodes of violence against electric vehicles and scooters .