The heart of San Francisco’s Chinatown was hit by a recent episode of extreme vandalism, marking a new chapter in the already strained relations between the city and automated vehicle companies. At around 9pm local time, an individual jumped on the hood of a Waymo driverless taxi, shattering its windshield, which was followed by a crowd forming around the vehicle, covering it in spray paint, breaking the windows, and finally setting it on fire. Despite the timely intervention of firefighters, the car was completely engulfed in flames by the time they arrived.
The motives behind this act of vandalism remain unclear. Waymo representative Sandy Karp confirmed that the fully autonomous car was not carrying passengers at the time of the attack and that fireworks were thrown into the car, sparking the flames. Thankfully, no injuries were reported. The incident is a symbol of the growing tension between San Francisco residents and operators of automated vehicles, particularly in the wake of other accidents and episodes of chaos involving autonomous taxis.
City officials and some residents have opposed the 24/7 operation of automated vehicles, using symbolic gestures such as placing orange cones on the hoods of vehicles to highlight their 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, from the destruction of shared bicycles to episodes of violence against electric vehicles and scooters.
In conclusion, the vandalism of the driverless taxi is just one example of the ongoing debate around the safety and appropriateness of autonomous vehicle services in urban life. The incident serves as a reminder of the challenges that technology companies face in deploying these devices in public spaces, and the resistance they encounter from certain communities and residents.