A person jumped on the hood of a Waymo driverless taxi and smashed its windshield in San Francisco’s Chinatown last night around 9PM PT, generating applause before a crowd formed around the car and covered it in spray paint, breaking its windows, and ultimately set it on fire. The fire department arrived minutes later, according to a report in The Autopian, but by then flames had already fully engulfed the car.
At the moment, no outlets seem to have reported a motive for the attack. Waymo representative Sandy Karp told The Verge via email that the fully autonomous car “was not transporting any riders” when it was attacked and fireworks were tossed inside the car, sparking the flames. Public Information Officer Robert Rueca of San Francisco’s police department confirmed in an email to The Verge that police responded at “approximately” 8:50PM PT to find the car already on fire, adding that there were “no reports of injuries.”
A video posted by the FriscoLive415 YouTube channel shows the burnt-out husk of the electric Waymo Jaguar.
Another set of videos posted by software developer Michael Vendi gives a view into the scene as it played out and the fire grew.
The fire takes place against the backdrop of simmering tension between San Francisco residents and automated vehicle operators. The California DMV suspended Waymo rival Cruise’s robotaxi operations after one of its cars struck and dragged a pedestrian last year, and prior to that, automated taxis had caused chaos in the city, blocking traffic or crashing into a fire truck. Just last week, a Waymo car struck a cyclist who had reportedly been following behind a truck turning across its path.
City officials and residents opposed the cars being given a license for 24/7 operation last year, with some residents rendering them immobile by putting orange cones on the cars’ hoods in protest.
Vandalism and defacement are time-honored parts of the human experience, seen in subway cars in New York City or the walls of the ancient destroyed city of Pompeii. Tech companies have been forced to reckon with this inevitability as they deploy their equipment in public with impunity. Scooters get tossed into lakes, cars are punched by pedestrians, and in some places, dockless bike share bikes are destroyed en masse.
Update February 11th, 2024, 3:00PM ET: Updated attribution for San Francisco Police Public Information Officer Robert Rueca.