8 Mar 18

San Franciscans rebel against self-drive technology

Could it be that San Francisco, the capital of Silicon Valley and the epicentre of tech innovation, is witnessing the beginnings of a neo-Luddite movement? Perhaps - as it is experiencing a wave of 'sabotage' against the self-driving vehicles and robots that are at the forefront of the mobility revolution. 

The word 'sabotage' comes from the wooden shoes (in French, sabots) that 19th-century French workers threw into the factory machines to make them stop. In England, an earlier movement of workers destroying the machines that took away their jobs was called the Luddites. Something similar now seems to be taking place in, of all places, San Francisco.

Broken taillight
In 2018 alone, California's Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) has already counted six incidents involving self-driving vehicles in San Francisco. Two of those incidents explicitly involved violence from 'civilians' against the high-tech machinery. 

On 10 January, an angry man purposely ran into a self-driving General Motors car which had stopped to let pedestrians cross. He screamed at the car and slammed his whole body into the left side of the rear bumper. Nobody got hurt and the car only suffered a broken taillight. 

Fighting back
On 28 January, a taxi driver got out of his car to assault another GM self-driving vehicle, beating the passenger side window, resulting in some scratches. 

It's not the first time San Franciscans are rebelling against the rise of the machines. In December, an animal shelter had to retire its Knightscope security robot from street patrol after heavy criticism from the neighbourhood, and an attempted 'assassination'. 

Illegal activity
Knightscope security robots (pictured: in the Westfield mall in San Jose, CA) use lasers and sensors to monitor for illegal activity, including homeless people settling in on the sidewalk. 

Last April, a man was arrested in Mountain View, location of Google's worldwide HQ, for pushing over a Knightscope robot. In many other incidents, the robots have been tilted just enough to prevent them going about their patrols. 

Robot numbers
Meanwhile, San Franciscans have scored a victory of sorts against the unmanned robots using the city's sidewalks to deliver meals and other packages to their customers. 

After complaints that these delivery robots were crowding pedestrian areas to the extent that citizens found it difficult to navigate them, the city of San Francisco has now approved a by-law that limits the number of robots on the city's sidewalks. 

Authored by: Frank Jacobs