Crowd sets Waymo self-driving vehicle on fire in San Francisco

Crowd sets Waymo self-driving vehicle on fire in San Francisco

By Hyunjoo Jin, Mariana Sandoval and Abhirup Roy

(Reuters) – A mob vandalized and set fire to a Waymo self-driving car using fireworks in San Francisco on Saturday, the Alphabet-owned company and authorities said, marking the deadliest attack on self-driving vehicles in the U.S. so far. .

On Saturday night, a crowd surrounded a white sports utility vehicle driving along a street in the city’s Chinatown neighborhood, a company spokesman said.

Michael Vandi, a witness who posted video of the incident, told Reuters that people were celebrating the Chinese Lunar New Year by lighting fireworks. A person jumped on the hood of the Waymo vehicle and broke the windshield. Another person also jumped on the hood 30 seconds later as some in the crowd clapped in approval, he told Reuters in a direct message on Twitter.

“That’s when it got wild,” he wrote, describing people on skateboards smashing the glass and others graffitiing the car. “There were 2 groups of people. People who encouraged him – and others who just freaked out and started shooting. Nobody stood up – I mean there was nothing you could do against dozens of people.”

His video showed the vehicle engulfed in flames with a large plume of black smoke.

Waymo said someone threw a firecracker inside, which set the vehicle on fire. The fire department posted pictures on social media of the charred remains of the car and said a firework started the flames.

“The vehicle was not carrying any riders and no injuries have been reported. We are working closely with local safety officials to respond to the situation,” the company said. He did not say what caused the attack.

The San Francisco Police Department said it was investigating the cause of the fire and did not say if any arrests had been made. The electric car, a Jaguar I-PACE, is equipped with 29 cameras and other sensors.

The latest incident came a day before the NFL Super Bowl featuring the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs.

“This was a one-off event,” Waymo’s spokesman told Reuters, adding that it “will continue to serve riders through today’s festivities.”

The incident wasn’t the first time people harassed self-driving cars, but its severity may illustrate growing public hostility after a pedestrian-pulling accident last year involving a vehicle driven by General Motors’ Cruise unit.

In previous cases in San Francisco and Phoenix, Arizona, groups have disrupted the operation of self-driving vehicles, blocking their path, trying to enter the vehicles and jumping on their hoods. Videos that went viral showed people placing orange traffic cones on top of vehicles to jam their sensors and force them to stop suddenly.

Last week, a driverless Waymo car crashed into a cyclist in San Francisco, causing minor injuries. The incident is being investigated by the state motor vehicle regulator.

Waymo offers its driverless ride-hailing service in Phoenix and is working to expand the service to Los Angeles and Austin, Texas.

On October 2, 2023, a pedestrian struck by another vehicle jumped into the path of a self-driving Cruise vehicle and was dragged 20 feet (6 meters). California then suspended the company’s driverless testing license and Cruise pulled all of its self-driving vehicles from testing in the US.

Fully driverless test vehicles, mostly from the Cruise and Waymo fleets, traveled nearly 3.3 million miles (5.3 million km) in California last year.

(Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Abhirup Roy in San Francisco and Mariana Sandoval in Mexico City; Editing by Lisa Shumaker and Paul Simao)

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