San Francisco's SPCA has deployed an autonomous, crime-fighting robot to keep homeless people from making tent encampments in front of their building. The city itself and Twitter are criticizing the invention.
The Society For Prevention Of Cruelty To Animals' location in the Mission neighborhood of the city covers an entire block. "We weren’t able to use the sidewalks at all when there’s needles and tents and bikes, so from a walking standpoint I find the robot much easier to navigate than an encampment," San Francisco SPCA president, Jennifer Scarlett, told The San Francisco Business Times. Their media relations manager told Business Insider that since implementing the robot, known as K9, one month ago, the homeless encampments have decreased and there are fewer car break-ins.
The robot, invented by the California-based company Knightscope, utilizes lasers, sensors, and cameras to monitor for criminal activity. In lieu of intervening, it then alerts human authorities. The SPCA is one of many organizations now using the robots to patrol parking lots, tech company campuses, office buildings, and sports arenas.
The City of San Francisco has given the organization an ultimatum: Either remove the robot or face a fine of $1,000 per day for operating in the public right-of-way without a permit. As far as the city is concerned, the robot poses a problem because it's operating on the sidewalk, which is city-owned property. Twitter, however, is taking issue with the SPCA's treatment of homeless people.
One person wrote, "Shameful that an org that finds homes for homeless animals is treating homeless people like less-than humans." The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty weighed in saying, "It's disheartening that @SFSPCA would show such a lack of compassion to our houseless neighbors."
In front of the SPCA location, the K9 robot has received mixed responses. While employees have an easier time parking and navigating the sidewalk to work, others have reported people setting up a homeless encampment nearby for allegedly attacking the patrol robot. According to the San Francisco SPCA president, they "put a tarp over it, knocked it over, and put barbecue sauce on all the sensors." One twitter user reported seeing the robot smeared with feces.
As a city, San Francisco is working on legislation which defines limits on robots using the sidewalks to deliver food and other goods, but as of now, it does not include security robots.