A Waymo self-driving vehicle was set on fire in San Francisco’s Chinatown district on the eve of the Lunar New Year celebrations.
The Alphabet-owned (Nasdaq: GOOG) company confirmed that the vehicle, a white sport utility Jaguar I-PACE, was surrounded by a crowd that proceeded to vandalize and ultimately set it ablaze using fireworks.
This event marks a significant escalation in the backlash against autonomous vehicles in the city, which is one of the few places where these driverless cars, also called robotaxis, are allowed to operate.
Witnesses at the scene reported that the incident began when a person jumped onto the hood of the empty Waymo robotaxi and broke its windshield. Shortly after, another person jumped on the hood and then the crowd clapped and cheered them on.
Michael Vandi, who witnessed and documented the incident, told Reuters that this was when people started spraying graffiti on the car and hitting it with skateboards to break the windows.
“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.”
And since it was the eve of the Lunar New Year, people were already lighting fireworks, and someone threw one into the Waymo vehicle’s window, which then set it on fire.
The event comes in the wake of a separate incident involving a Waymo vehicle colliding with a cyclist in San Francisco last week, as well as a serious accident last year involving a car from Cruise, the General Motors-owned (NYSE: GM) self-driving unit, and a pedestrian.
Regulators are looking into the recent Waymo incident but no serious injuries were caused. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said about the Cruise incident last year that resulted in the suspension of the company’s testing license.
Waymo and the San Francisco Police Department are investigating the cause of the fire. It’s unclear whether arrests have been made.
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