While autonomous vehicles are set to become part of the motoring landscape, many of people remain wary of the new technology, resulting in a series of disconcerting incidents involving Waymo’s self-driving prototypes in Arizona.
A comprehensive investigation from The New York Times has uncovered roughly two dozens attacks on Waymo’s test vehicles throughout the last two years.
While some of these attacks are rather docile, others aren’t. In fact, there have been attacks where rocks have been thrown at the vehicles, tires have been slashed and drivers have even tried to run them off the road. Police also assert that, in one instance, a man pulled alongside a Waymo vehicle and threatened the safety driver behind the wheel with a PVC pipe. In another, most serious, case, a man waved a .22-caliber gun at a Waymo employee in the driver’s seat.
When arrested, the man said he “despises” driverless cars while referring to the tragic death of a pedestrian hit by one of Uber’s autonomous test vehicles in March 2018.
Arizona resident Erik O’Polka has a particularly strong disdain for Waymo’s vehicles and was issued a warning by the police after multiple reports that he tried to run Waymo prototypes off the road with his Jeep Wrangler. O’Polka’s wife, Elizabeth, admitted to The New York Times that she, too, “may have forced them to pull over” in the past before yelling at the safety drivers to leave their neighborhood.
Media theorist Douglas Rushkoff from City University of New York says it is no surprise that many Arizonans are displeased with driverless vehicles testing through local streets.
“There’s a growing sense that the giant corporations honing driverless technologies do not have our best interests at heart. Just think about the humans inside these vehicles, who are essentially training the artificial intelligence that will replace them,” Rushkoff said.
In a statement issued to the media, Waymo spokeswoman Alexis Georgeson said that the company hasn’t tried to persecute offenders and that, for the most part, locals have happily welcomed the vehicles.
“Safety is the core of everything we do, which means that keeping our drivers, our riders, and the public safe is our top priority.
“Over the past two years, we’ve found Arizonans to be welcoming and excited by the potential of this technology to make our roads safer,” she said.