Waymo’s autonomous cars are coming under attack in Arizona

Waymo recently became the first company to start charging for rides in self-driving cars, but it seems that some residents near Phoenix, Arizona, where the taxi service is operating, are none too happy about the development.

Reports from local news outlet AZCentral, as well as a follow-up investigation in recent days by the NY Times, point to a series of incidents where people have been vandalizing Waymo’s self-driving cars in the city of Chandler, just east of Phoenix, and in some cases harassing the occupants of the vehicles

More than 20 incidents have been recorded by police in the last two years, though many more may have gone unreported. They include tire slashing, rock throwing, and cases where human drivers have tried to force Waymo cars off the road, according to the reports. Safety drivers have also been verbally abused and threatened, with the NY Times noting that “in one of the more harrowing episodes, a man waved a .22-caliber revolver at a Waymo vehicle and the emergency backup driver at the wheel.”

There are a number of reasons why some residents have an issue with the autonomous cars appearing in their neighborhood, with road safety and potential job losses apparently the primary concerns.

A 2018 incident where a pedestrian was knocked down and killed by a self-driving car being tested by Uber in neighboring Tempe, Arizona, has prompted some people to turn against the technology — or at least the testing of the tech in real-world conditions. It should be pointed out, though, that considering the number of miles covered in trials so far, vehicles powered by autonomous systems are already performing to a very high standard. On for jobs front, taxi and ridesharing drivers view self-driving cars as a threat to their own industries, with Waymo’s recently launched taxi service understandably stoking those fears.

Some residents also feel that they weren’t properly consulted about having tech firms use their neighborhood as a test bed for the autonomous-vehicle technology.

Waymo: Arizonans have been “welcoming and excited”

Waymo, for its part, insists that overall, folks in Arizona have been open to the idea of self-driving cars and haven’t been at all put out by trials of the technology on its roads.

“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,” it said in a statement. “We believe a key element of local engagement has been our ongoing work with the communities in which we drive, including Arizona law enforcement and first responders.”

But according to AZCentral, Waymo sometimes appears unwilling to contact law enforcement when an incident occurs, and can be reluctant to hand over video evidence. Such hesitancy may be an effort to keep a low profile to ensure its testing isn’t curtailed in the locations where the protests have been taking place, though the company insisted to the New York Times that it does report serious incidents to the police.

Given what is happening in Chandler, Waymo’s challenges clearly don’t only include technological ones. The company, and others like it, still have some work to do to win over those skeptical about autonomous cars, though as with any transformative technology, it could be many years before everyone is on board.

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