The Arizona Tribune
Law & Order

Why have Waymo’s Autonomous Vehicles Become Objects of Aversion?

What began as Google’s self-driving car project in 2009, seems to now be the object of aversion for some in Arizona. Recent incidents reported by local media have highlighted how self-driving cars have been vandalized, thrown stones at, tires slashed in the city of Chandler were 21 such attacks have come under scrutiny. In certain incidents, some miscreants are even reported to have harassed the emergency backup motorists or test drivers in the driverless vans. So much so, that these test drivers had confessed to having switched to manual from auto mode when they sensed palpable tension.

The recent New York Times report summarizes the ultimate fear that has been already depicted in Hollywood’s sci-fi projects. It’s robots vs. humans, where manual labor may be ultimately replaced by Artificial Intelligence. The common assumption (rather misgivings) being these robotic vans, a technological breakthrough, is trying to get the best of humans by taking their jobs away. Déjà vu, anyone?

While some allege that it all triggered in March 2018, after a woman pedestrian in Tempe was killed after a self-driving Uber vehicle hit her. Earlier in September 2017 too, a man was reported to have thrown stones at two Waymo vehicles.

Sample the attacks:

  • A man aimed a handgun at one of the vans as it passed by his curb so as to scare the test driver.
  • People have been said to have thrown rocks, slashed tires at these driverless vans.
  • An inebriated man blocked a Waymo van by standing in front of the vehicle and not letting it pass.
  • Some incidents bordered on bullying with the autonomous vehicles being chased, pursued and yelled at.
  • In one case, a man driving a Jeep tries to derail the vans on roads for about six times.

Why so much hate when this self-driving technology has been tested on the roads of Chandler since 2016? Certain media reports claim that by harassing the emergency backup motorists, some people are venting their anger, exasperation at the company, a division of Mountain View, Alphabet Inc based in California.

Despite being abused and ill-treated, Waymo test drivers have hardly pressed charges. Therefore, there are rare or no arrests being made. Also, the company has asked these safety drivers to contact them first in case of an emergency.

We’re building the world’s Most Experienced Driver, states Waymo which is said to be first rolling out in the Metro Phoenix area. In a tweet, Rob Antoniak, Valley Metro, COO PHX, had said: “Arizona is welcoming #AutonomousVehicles like @Waymo with open arms… Contrary to some recent news reports, don’t let individual criminals throwing rocks or slashing tires derail efforts to drive the future of #Transportation #AZ #chandler.”

An irony of sorts, it’s not only Waymo’s self-driving vehicles that are gaining more footing in the cutting-edge tech market primarily in Chandler, but it’s also a beta testing neighborhood, the rising number of attacks are getting equal prominence too. And the latter does not seem to ebb just yet.

It may be recalled that in December 2018, Nuro, an American robotics company based in Mountain View, CA, in partnership with Kroger, America’s largest grocery retailer, had debuted its self-driving grocery delivery service for customers in Scottsdale, Arizona. The deliveries were made by self-driving Toyota Prius cars and had safety drivers on board.

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