Though currently off the streets following several high-profile incidents, the Cruise AV robotaxi vehicles operated by GM subsidiary Cruise provided video evidence to police on at least several occasions, new information reveals.
Bloomberg obtained a large number of emails exchanged between the San Francisco Police Department and Cruise, which contained information on crime-stopping collaboration, a new article reports.
While the Cruise AVs’ occasional propensity to drive close to or through active crime scenes could be seen as a negative for any passengers who happened to be aboard, it also enabled the modified Chevy Bolt EV units to obtain video of several incidents underway on Frisco’s streets that later proved useful to the police.
The email collection, discovered by the Electronic Frontier Foundation, shows that both San Francisco and Phoenix police have begun to regularly use Cruise AVs as roving surveillance cameras. Several warrants were issued to obtain robotaxi video which might have captured footage of a lethal accident, a sexual assault, and a burglary that was occurring while an autonomous vehicle was passing by.
Additionally, law enforcement examined footage taken by a Cruise AV for license plate numbers and possible facial views of suspects in a July arson attempt at the Indian embassy. The emails do not always reveal whether the information provided was enough to help solve the crimes in question, however.
Various privacy groups have expressed strong concern over the role of the Cruise AV robotaxis as mobile video platforms, since the vehicles record not only criminals, but also numerous passersby who are not committing crimes. The fact that the autonomous vehicles also record audio, including conversations, taking place near them has prompted particular skepticism from the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Most of the email interaction between the police and Cruise is related to matters other than crimes potentially filmed by the vehicles. Cruise complained about “curious cops” stopping the self-driving cabs allegedly “without probable cause, reasonable articulable suspicion, or indication of a traffic violation,” simply to have a look at the unusual machines.
However, the relationship between the AV operator and the police is not always rocky. A representative from Cruise rival Waymo also stated that the robotaxi service has “a very positive working relationship with the SFPD and have met with them regularly over the years.”
Meanwhile, Cruise has recently suspended the operation of even “supervised” rides with a human safety driver present in the vehicle while it conducts in-depth investigations.
The GM subsidiary also has pressure on it from another quarter as investors balk at its lack of profitability. The robotaxi operator has lost $8 billion since its 2017 launch and has enough cash on hand – $1.7 billion – to operate for roughly nine more months. One analyst, Lawrence Paustian, called the business “a bit of a black hole.”