San Francisco mob sets Waymo self-driving car on fire during Lunar New Year celebrations

An enraged mob in San Francisco set ablaze a Waymo self-driving car using fireworks, marking the most severe instance of vandalism against a unmanned vehicles in the United States to date. The incident involved a group encircling a white SUV in the city’s Chinatown area, as reported by a spokesperson from Alphabet’s Waymo. The attack occurred amidst the Chinese Lunar New Year celebrations, with individuals setting off fireworks. According to a witness, the situation escalated when one individual climbed onto the vehicle’s hood, shattering its windshield.

Shortly thereafter, another individual mounted the hood, drawing applause from some onlookers, Reuters noted. “That’s when chaos erupted,” the witness recounted, with some using skateboards to break the windows and others defacing the vehicle with graffiti. “There were two kinds of people: those who egged it on and those who were simply stunned and began recording. No one intervened – facing dozens, there was little to be done,” they added. Footage captured by the witness showed the vehicle fully ablaze, emitting a thick column of black smoke.

This incident is a continuation of the harassment faced by autonomous vehicles, possibly reflecting increased public animosity after an incident last year where a self-driving car by General Motors’ Cruise division dragged a pedestrian. Waymo reported that the vehicle was set on fire after a firework was thrown inside. Fire department officials shared images on social media showing the vehicle’s burnt-out shell, confirming that a firework was the cause of the fire.

“No passengers were being transported at the time, and there have been no reported injuries. We are in close communication with local authorities to address this incident,” Waymo stated, without specifying the motive behind the attack. The San Francisco Police Department is looking into the fire’s origins but has yet to announce any arrests. The damaged electric vehicle, a Jaguar I-PACE, was fitted with 29 cameras among other sensing devices.