"It didn’t end well (for them)."

All-Seeing Bot

In a fresh display of our looming panopticon, an investigation has revealed that the camera on an Uber Eats food delivery robot has been used to convict two men accused of trying — and ultimately failing — to steal said robot.

The newly-launched 404 Media — which has been doing excellent work, and which you should consider subscribing to — found via Freedom of Information Act request that Serve Robotics, the company that made the semi-autonomous Uber Eats robot in question, is working in lockstep with the Los Angeles Police Department to use the cameras on its machines.

Video of the robbery, which took place over the summer, was apparently tweeted out by Serve Robotics' CEO Ali Kashani around the time 404 Media got redacted emails from the LAPD, but the post now displays a message saying it has been taken down for copyright infringement.

"Fun fact: Some genius once tried to steal one of our robots," the CEO posted. "It didn’t end well (for them)."

In a statement posted to the company's Medium blog that does not mention explicitly the police cooperation, Kashani wrote that this "bot-napping" was a first for the company. He added that the company's policy is to "report to police any violent incidents or serious criminal conduct that may put public safety at risk" and also claimed that Serve's guiding principles include that the company wants to "put people first" and "foster trust" while "[making] cities safer."

In its own statement, the LAPD defended to 404 Media the arrests and swift conviction of the men who tried to steal the robot.

"The incident described was a Grand Theft," the LAPD told the website. "They attempted to steal the robot."

Feed Me

It's unclear what thieves would want to do with a proprierary delivery robot. Maybe they were hoping it would make a nice pet. While Serve told 404 that it "regularly" deletes the camera feeds recorded by its robots, the site made the salient point that its readiness to provide the police with the footage of the would-be bot theft complicates that claim.

Moreover, neither its privacy policy — which has not been updated since April 2021 — nor statements from its representatives or CEO say how long it keeps its footage, or how it would handle a police request. The company told the website that it was subpoenaed by the LAPD, but didn't end up having to appear in court.

To be clear, attempting to steal a delivery robot is a bad idea. But in the grand scheme of things, the concept of semi-autonomous robots that spy on the people around them while wandering the streets of our cities seems dubious at best.

More on robot policing: NYPD Deploys Villainous-Looking Dalek in Subway System

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