There has been a lot written about robotaxis – most about the safety aspect of the vehicles and especially during the current testing period. A lot of commentators agree that humans are at the heart of most accidents, so if you can get the vehicle’s systems to do all the work there is a theory that the road toll will reduce. That of course depends on humans developing bug-free code that the systems use to understand the data feeds being generated and it assumes that all vehicles on the road are the same – which clearly for the next ten to twenty years is not going to happen.
However, there are people out there who are so against the idea of autonomous vehicles being tested in their neighbourhoods that they are acting like the underground during a war. They are organising and implementing sabotage sorties against the vehicles.
Waymo has been testing in Phoenix, Arizona and recently announced that they have started a commercial trial within some suburbs of the city. Waymo’s testing has been ongoing in the city for several years and there have been over twenty reported attacks in the past couple of years including tyre slashing, screaming abuse as they go by (!) and even rocks thrown at them.
A man threatened the human safety driver of one vehicle with a gun and another couple have been attempting to force the vehicles to crash using their Jeep Wrangler as the weapon. They admitted to the police that they had even driven down the wrong side of the road to make the vehicles stop or they have emergency braked when one of the Waymo cars is behind them! They said that they started doing it after their child was nearly hit by a Waymo in their cul-de-sac. They clearly didn’t consider teaching their son to look out for vehicles when playing in the road.
Apparently Waymo has chosen not to directly prosecute the offenders, however I suspect that some will be prosecuted for dangerous driving or other misdemeanours. Waymo have taken a decision that prosecuting the offenders will only increase the number of attacks on their vehicles. As Motoring Weekly described in a recent article about Waymo, the testing of technology on public roads is nothing new – if you think about it, the transition of personal transportation from horse-drawn buggies to cars was also done on public roads!
Many of the objections are about Google saving costs and removing the human from the vehicle. On the one hand I can see that taxi and truck driving will become an extinct job just as boiler-makers and typing pools have disappeared in the last few decades. There will be a transition period where these occupations will die off and the people who are doing them will find other types of work – of course, some companies will charge more for a “personal” service by including a driver!
I’m not sold on the “saving costs” argument when Google and others have spent billions of investment dollars on developing and testing the technology. Payback could take decades and unless they persuade Governments to hand over tax credits, this is a long term game. However I think the reality will be that cities will legislate that some robotaxi services will need to use special transit lanes to keep them away from other vehicles and that there will be voter pressure to improve the local mass transit systems.
I don’t think acting like a neanderthal is going to change anything, however hitting politicians where it hurts (i.e. votes) will be more effective.
Image source: Waymo.