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Robotaxi haters in San Francisco disable AVs with traffic cones

A grassroots group of safe streets activists in San Francisco have realized they can disable Cruise and Waymo robotaxis by placing a traffic cone on the hood of a vehicle, and they’re encouraging others to do so as well.

The “Week of Cone,” as the group calls the now-viral prank on Twitter and TikTok, is a form of protest against the spread of robotaxi services in the city, and it appears to be gaining traction with residents who are fed up with it. vehicles run poorly and block traffic. The protest comes ahead of a hearing that will likely see Waymo and Cruise expand their robotaxi services to San Francisco.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) is set to approve the expansion of Cruise and Waymo’s self-driving vehicle passenger service deployments in San Francisco on July 13. in the field of motor vehicles. But it grants companies the power to charge passengers a fare for the service, which is an essential ingredient for sustainably scaling robotaxi and autonomous delivery operations.

In May, the CPUC released draft resolutions approving the expansion, despite mounting opposition from city agencies and residents. Opponents called out the series of AV vehicles that impeded traffic, public transportation and emergency responders, and asked the CPUC to proceed with caution, set up workshops, collect more data , to prohibit the deployment of robotaxi in the city center and during peak hours, and to limit the expansion of fleet sizes.

Screenshot from @safestreetrebel’s TikTok video showing how to disable an AV with a traffic cone. Image Credit: @safestreetrebel / Screenshot

Other opponents like the San Francisco Taxi Workers Alliance and the Alliance for Independent Workers have protested the spread of robotaxis, which they say will eliminate the need for taxi drivers and ridesharers.

Safe Street Rebel’s cone campaign is an attempt to raise awareness and invite more pissed off San Franciscans to submit public comments to the CPUC ahead of next week’s hearing.

“These companies promise their cars will reduce traffic and collisions, but instead they block buses, emergency vehicles and everyday traffic,” a video read. posted on social media. “They even killed a person and a dog. And they team up with the police to tape everyone all the time without anyone’s consent. And above all, they need streets designed for cars, not for people or public transit. They only exist to keep for-profit automakers dominant and make it harder to keep public transit afloat.

Although the statement above is a bit hyperbolic, there are nuggets of truth. Cruise and Waymo vehicles have indeed stopped in the middle of the roads, blocking emergency vehicles, public transport and general traffic. Recently a Waymo AV struck and killed a dog, but it seems the accident was unavoidable. In 2018, an Uber self-driving vehicle was involved in a crash that killed a pedestrian in Arizona, but so far no fatalities have occurred as a result of AV vehicles in San Francisco. And, yes, police have enlisted Cruise and Waymo for footage to help solve a handful of crimes, but there’s no evidence the companies are working in tandem with law enforcement to record everyone. all the time.

Nevertheless, the group raises a common concern about the deployment of autonomous vehicles on public roads – the lack of input from ordinary people who have to manage the vehicles in the field. Congressional efforts to regulate self-driving cars have lagged for several years, so most regulations come from state departments of transportation and departments of motor vehicles.

“I see tech buddies wringing their hands in horror: ‘Won’t anyone think about AV?!'” tweeted David Zipper, visiting scholar at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Taubman Center for State and Local Government, in response to the cone challenge. “I couldn’t disagree more. California regulators are forcing San Franciscans to become guinea pigs for ongoing audio-visual technology. Active protest is a reasonable response.

Or to put it another way:

“Surely not. We do not consent to this,” Safe Street Rebel said.

The group urges others to follow their lead and deactivate vehicles by “gently placing” cones on the hood of a driverless – meaning empty – car. Some people are apparently sending quotes, but it’s unclear how many people sent images to Safe Street Rebel. The group did not respond to TechCrunch’s request for comment.

Cruise also didn’t respond to TechCrunch in time to comment, but Waymo called the viral hack a form of vandalism.

“Not only is this understanding of how AV vehicles work incorrectly, it is vandalism and encourages dangerous and disrespectful behavior on our roads,” the company said in a statement. “We will notify law enforcement of any unwanted or dangerous interference by our vehicles on public roads.”

Again with hyperbole. The definition of vandalism is intentionally damaging someone’s property – think flat tires or smashed windows. Waymo probably won’t have a chance to slap a vandalism charge on someone who puts a cone on the hood of their vehicles.

Despite protests from the guerrillas, the cone trick is unlikely to affect the CPUC’s decision. There’s enough support from other stakeholders — including elected officials, accessibility advocates, tech industry groups, and business and economic development organizations — for the CPUC to sweep dissent aside. under the carpet. And based on the agenda for the upcoming hearing, it appears the agency is ready to approve the program’s authorization.

“The service offered by Cruise is not expected to result in significant safety risks,” an agenda item reads. The same sentiment repeats itself for Waymo.


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