Is it worse if a robot instead of a human is used to deter the homeless from setting up camp outside places of business?
One such bot cop recently took over the outside of the San Francisco SPCA, an animal advocacy and pet adoption clinic in the city’s Mission district, to deter homeless people from hanging out there — causing some people to get very upset.
Silicon Valley game developer and Congressional candidate Brianna Wu tweeted yesterday her dismay at the move, saying, “I’m sorry for being so frank but this absolutely disgusts me as someone that experienced homelessness.”
The homelessness issue in S.F. is thorny and complicated. One could get whiplash at seeing the excess of wealth and privilege juxtaposed with the dire circumstances just steps outside Twitter headquarters on Market Street.
However, the city’s homeless are also associated with higher rates of crime, violence and sometimes episodes of psychosis, leading to safety issues that many feel San Francisco has not had an adequate handle on.
The S.F. SPCA rolled out the use of a robot unit dubbed K9 from security startup Knightscope a month ago, citing these same safety concerns.
“Over the summer our shelter was broken into twice. The inside was vandalized and property and cash donations were stolen,” S.F. SPCA spokesperson Krista Maloney told TechCrunch. “Furthermore, many staff members and volunteers have filed complaints about damage to cars and harassment they experienced in our parking lot when leaving work after dark. We currently employ security guards, but we have a large campus and they can only be in one area at a time.
The K9 units are also cheaper than humans. One robot costs $6 an hour to use vs. paying a security guard the average $16 an hour.
“Unfortunately, in the last year we’ve been forced to spend a significant amount of money to ensure the security and safety of the people on our campus as well as the animals in our care,” Maloney said.
And, according to both the S.F. SPCA and Knightscope, crime dropped after deploying the bot.
However, the K9 unit was patrolling several areas around the shop, including the sidewalk where humans walk, drawing the ire of pedestrians and advocacy group Walk SF, which previously introduced a bill to ban food delivery robots throughout the city.
“We’re seeing more types of robots on sidewalks and want to see the city getting ahead of this,” said Cathy DeLuca, Walk SF policy and program director, who also mentioned S.F. district 7 supervisor Norman Yee would be introducing legislation around sidewalk use permits for robots in the beginning of 2018.