A local TV station spent a night with the monkey-wrench gang that’s been stopping self-driving cars with mere orange cones, and yes, it seems this incredibly simple hack does indeed work.
When pranksters' social media posts started bubbling up early this month claiming that self-driving Cruise and Waymo taxicabs could be stopped in their tracks if someone placed an orange cone on their hood, we were initially skeptical. But Waymo and Cruise were both very perturbed and defensive in their responses, so much so that you had to wonder if they were conceding that the stunt does work. Meanwhile, videos of these “banana in the tailpipe” shenanigans have racked up millions of views.
A group of San Franciscans realized that they can disable Waymo and Cruise robotaxis by placing a traffic cone on the vehicle's hood.— David Zipper (@DavidZipper) July 6, 2023
They're now encouraging others to do it: "Hell no, we do not consent to this." pic.twitter.com/ZrYhy4OATy
KPIX spent a night riding with these orange-cone activists, and produced a separate video segment on their evening seen below. The video shows that yes, the orange cone trick does halt the vehicles, which then start flashing their emergency lights, and remain disabled and stuck until a human technician arrives to fix them.
The group behind this activist prank is called Safe Street Rebel, and they're not a new group. These car-free advocates have a website that’s been active since early 2022.
"It's simple," the group's unofficial spokesperson "John" tells KPIX. "We just drive around in their main travel routes, and we wait for them.”
Welcome to Week of Cone— Safe Street Rebel (@SafeStreetRebel) July 5, 2023
On Thurs 7/13, the CPUC will vote to expand AVs in SF. Cruise & Waymo promise they’ll reduce traffic & collisions, but we know that’s not true. They block busses & emergency vehicles, create more traffic, and are a surveillance nightmare.
But there’s hope pic.twitter.com/K7e0C2nhuq
"We're hoping to really change the conversation on these [cars]," John continues, "We want more people to just consider whether we want these on our roads, and really we want regulators to listen."
Cruise and Waymo have been indignant in their response. "This is vandalism and encourages unsafe and disrespectful behavior on our roadways," Waymo spokesperson Katherine Barna told the Examiner in early July.
And USF transportation and innovation professor Billy Riggs says it’s an article of faith that self-driving cars will be safer than human drivers. "We've reached a level where AI can actually do many of the functions in our lives better than we can with less margin for error," he told KPIX.
And there’s no denying that glitchy incidents are increasing in recent months with these robotaxis on SF streets. Sometimes groups of self-driving cars all stop at once, sometimes they block police, firefighters, and first responders,
“Right now, they can, and do, impact our response times, and, frankly, our ability to respond to emergencies,” SF Fire Chief Jeanine Nicholson told the Chronicle. “They’re just not ready for primetime.”
Is it illegal to “cone” the self-driving robotaxis? That seems kind of a legal gray area, as the activists are not actually damaging the vehicles. But what we see here is the Big Tech “disruptors” being disrupted themselves, and they are none too happy.
But honestly, the placement of a mere orange cone on the hood being able to halt these vehicles seems a pretty basic Achilles heel flaw that ought to be addressed. If the cars were more widely used, bad actors could cause mayhem beyond the pranks of a few protestors. The reality may be that two things can be true; that self-driving cars will ultimately reduce traffic deaths mightily, but their current state is still buggy enough that their safety risks pose additional, unforeseen hazards.
Image: @SafeStreetRebel via Twitter