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Self-driving cars are under siege from gun-wielding, tire-slashing Arizonans, cops say

Arizona’s self-driving cars have seen it all.

Angry Arizonans have slashed tires, lobbed rocks, shouted at and chased after autonomous vans that Waymo — the self-driving car project owned by Alphabet, Google’s parent company — has been testing in Chandler since 2016, the Arizona Republic reports.

One man even pleaded guilty last week to disorderly conduct after police said he angrily pointed a gun at a Waymo self-driving van that had a safety driver inside, CBS 5 reports.

To be fair, Arizona isn’t the only state where humans appear uneasy about the rise of self-driving cars: In the first couple months of 2018, autonomous cars in California got into six accidents — two of which involved upset San Francisco residents attacking the vehicles, according to the California Department of Motor Vehicles. As McClatchy reported earlier this year, the other four accidents were the fault of other human drivers, not self-driving cars.

Autonomous vehicle technology has been developing rapidly for years, but scrutiny of self-driving cars increased in 2018 after a self-driving Uber SUV ran into and killed a pedestrian in Tempe, Arizona, in March. That vehicle had a human test driver inside. Uber halted self-driving vehicle testing after the incident.

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Still, Waymo’s tests in Arizona have continued.

Police reports in Arizona cases suggest test drivers don’t usually press charges, the Republic reports. Waymo also said angry responses to self-driving cars are the exception.

“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,” the company said in a statement, according to the Republic. “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.”

Some locals agree that Arizona is an ideal place to test the vehicles.

“In Arizona, we still do enjoy a bit of wild, wild West mentality. We have this great desire to be exploring and conquering this frontier,” said Rob Antoniak, chief operating officer of Valley Metro, a group that oversees Phoenix area transit, according to the Washington Post. “And we enjoy a regulatory environment that embraces that attitude.”

To that end, Waymo is forging ahead with ambitious plans to integrate self-driving cars into daily life.

Waymo announced in a blog post on Dec. 5 that it’s rolling out the first commercial, self-driving taxi service in the United States in the suburbs of Phoenix. The service — Waymo One — has a phone app much like ride-hailing options like Uber.

“Avoid the stress of driving,” Waymo promises on its website. “Get there safely with a driver that sees in all directions, is constantly vigilant, and has millions of miles of experience.”

The self-driving car project has poured billions of dollars into getting the vehicles ready, and has done 10 million miles of road-testing, the Post reports. How the rollout goes in Arizona could factor into the perception of self-driving cars across the country and world — and help determine if they’re adopted broadly at all.

“The trajectory of the industry, not just at Waymo, is going to depend on a lot of these early experiences. Do people feel safe? Do people feel comfortable? Is it seamless?” said Costa Samaras, a Carnegie Mellon University automation expert, the Post reports. “If it is, we’ll see more of it. If not, people will go back to the engineering room.”

At first, Waymo One will offer the service only to the select Arizonans who participated in the projects early rider program starting in April 2017.

“Over time, we hope to make Waymo One available to even more members of the public as we add vehicles and drive in more places,” Waymo CEO John Krafcik wrote in the blog post.

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