A Waymo robotaxi was vandalized and then set on fire by a crowd of people Saturday evening in San Francisco’s Chinatown neighborhood. The incident is the latest encounter between driverless vehicles and the public in San Francisco, a city where autonomous vehicle companies have spent years testing the technology on public streets.
The Saturday night incident, which was captured on video and shared on social media channels, didn’t appear to be a coordinated effort. Instead, the video shows a crowd becoming increasingly riled up and violent once the driverless vehicle becomes surrounded.
A Waymo spokesperson confirmed that there were no passengers in the driverless vehicle at the time. The company’s statement:
At approximately 9 PM on Saturday, February 10th, a fully autonomous Waymo vehicle was navigating through San Francisco when a crowd surrounded and vandalized the vehicle, breaking the window and throwing a firework inside, which set the vehicle on fire. The vehicle was not transporting any riders and no injuries have been reported. We are working closely with local safety officials to respond to the situation.
This isn’t the first time San Francisco citizens have messed with a driverless vehicle. And it likely won’t be the last.
Last summer, a decentralized group of safe streets activists in San Francisco disabled robotaxis throughout the city by placing a traffic cone on a vehicle’s hood.
The “Week of Cone,” as the group called the viral prank on Twitter and TikTok, was a form of protest against the spread of robotaxi services in the city. The protest came ahead of a California Public Utilities Commission hearing, in which Cruise and Waymo received the final permit required to commercially operate robotaxi services in San Francisco.
There have also been videos depicting people attacking Cruise robotaxis. But with Cruise currently suspended from operating in the city, Waymo is the only driverless robotaxi service — and the most visible symbol of autonomous tech in the city.