Waymo’s burnt robotaxi is not the only problem it’s dealing with

Despite its intention to help build the future of transportation for the people, autonomous robotaxis remain the ire of residents of cities said vehicles are deployed in. 

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As per a report by Reuters, on the evening of Feb. 10, a crowd of people near San Francisco’s Chinatown vandalized and set fire to a Jaguar I-Pace electric SUV belonging to Alphabet-owned  (GOOG)  robotaxi company Waymo, leaving the driverless car to burn to a crisp on the city streets amidst Lunar New Year celebrations. 

According to an eyewitness who spoke with Reuters, the incident started when a person jumped onto the hood of the Waymo and broke its windshield, while another person jumped onto the hood 30 seconds later to the crowd’s approval. He also noted that the energy exuded by the crowd made it feel as if nothing could have stopped it. 

“That was when it went wild,” eyewitness Michael Vandi told Reuters while also describing skateboard-wielding people breaking the Jaguar’s glass and others spraying graffiti onto the car. 

“There were 2 groups of people. Folks who encourage it — and others who were just shocked & started filming. No one stood up — I mean there wasn’t anything you could do to stand up to dozens of people.”

Waymo said that the vehicle was not transporting any passengers at the time. No injuries were reported and the company is working with local officials to respond to the situation. 

The San Francisco Fire Department said that a firework insider the Jaguar started the fire. It has turned over the case to the police, who are investigating the cause of the attack. 

The inside of a Waymo autonomous vehicle in San Francisco is seen. There is rising tension in the city over the use of robotaxis.

JASON HENRY/Getty Images

The incident comes during a time of tension between the public in San Francisco and firms like Waymo and General Motors-owned  (GM)  Cruise, whose autonomous cars have been actively roaming the streets of San Francisco. 

On the afternoon of Feb. 6, a driverless Waymo similar to the Jaguar burnt near San Francisco’s Chinatown struck a cyclist after it failed to detect it at the intersection of 17th and Mississippi streets in the Potrero Hill neighborhood of San Francisco. 

According to Waymo, the car was stopped at a four-way stop while it waited for a large truck to turn onto the intersection. The car waited for its turn and proceeded through the intersection, failing to detect the cyclist who was traveling behind the truck. 

“The cyclist was occluded by the truck and quickly followed behind it, crossing into the Waymo vehicle’s path,” Waymo spokesperson Julia Ilina said. “When they became fully visible, our vehicle applied heavy braking but was not able to avoid the collision.”

The cyclist reported minor injuries. 

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In October 2023, Waymo rival Cruise was involved in a much more tragic incident in the city, as a pedestrian struck by a hit-and-run driver was launched into the path of a Cruise driverless vehicle. The Cruise vehicle proceeded to pull over to the side of the road, but failed to detect that the victim was still pinned underneath the car.

On Oct. 24, the California Department of Motor Vehicles suspended the permits for Cruise statewide, stating that its vehicles posed “an unreasonable risk to the public.”

In a statement, San Francisco Mayor London Breed called the Feb. 10 incident “a dangerous and destructive act of vandalism.”

My statement regarding the arson incident of an autonomous vehicle this past weekend. ⬇️ pic.twitter.com/VRrO9j704t

— London Breed (@LondonBreed) February 12, 2024

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