A food delivery robot's footage led to a criminal conviction in LA

Serve Robotics handed footage over to the LAPD after two people attempted to steal one of its bots.

Serve Robotics

Footage captured by a food delivery robot in Los Angeles was used to arrest and convict two people after a failed attempt to steal it off the street earlier this year, according to 404 Media. Serve Robotics, which works with Uber Eats for last-mile deliveries in the area, shared videos of the incident with the Los Angeles Police Department both proactively and after a subpoena. Serve previously met with LAPD to “open a line of communication” between the two ahead of any potential troubles, emails obtained by 404 also show.

It comes at a time when public wariness around the technology is already high, with concerns about just how much the robots are recording and where that footage ultimately goes. Serve Robotics CEO Ali Kashani boasted about the resulting convictions on social media, tweeting, “Some genius once tried to steal one of our robots… It didn’t end well (for them).” In a follow-up blog post, Kashani takes a softer stance, attempting to explain how the company balances its approach to involving law enforcement with its responsibility to the public and fostering trust.

The company’s principles, according to Kashani, include “not using robots for surveillance or other purposes that violate the public’s sense of privacy,” and not putting unnecessary strain on public resources by calling in the police “to address every minor incident of robot vandalism.” In this case, in which the police were immediately notified and arrests were made, the robot got away on its own and was, as Kashani describes it, “unharmed.” The company turned in all relevant footage before deleting it.

It remains unclear how long Serve keeps its robots’ recordings under normal circumstances, and its vagueness around the videos' potential use doesn’t inspire much confidence. In a statement to 404 Media, Serve’s head of communications, Aduke Thelwell, said it is the company’s policy to “regularly delete camera feed unless otherwise required, and to comply with subpoena requests.”