San Francisco Organization Deploys Robots to Deter Homeless From Congregating

We have documented multiple use cases for robots on this website already. Some of these projects make a lot more sense than others. The San Francisco SPCA has embarked on a rather unique endeavor, even though it remains to be seen how the general public will respond. Using security robots to deter homeless people from forming camps is an interesting albeit delicate venture.

Ending Homelessness in SF

Like most other major cities around the world, San Francisco is dealing with a growing number of homeless individuals. In most cases, none of these individuals chose to live on the streets, but fate has dealt them a cruel hand. It is only normal to see them band together in communities to help one another out. Unfortunately, the side effect has been the creation of so-called tent cities, which have been a thorn in the side of San Francisco officials.

Using crime-fighting robots in this situation may or may not be a smart decision. After all, interacting with homeless people requires a personal touch, which no robot can ever provide adequately. For now, these robots patrol the area surrounding the San Francisco SPCA to ensure no groups of people make the location their temporary residence.

As one would expect, the opinions regarding this “experiment” are pretty much all over the place. Some people feel it is a very smart move, whereas others consider this to be an inhumane way of dealing with less-fortunate people. Although the robots can’t harm people in any way, their presence is considered rather hostile. Then again, they are designed to deter crime, and in this case, deterring homeless people from setting up camps. These machines were never intended to be cuddly and friendly.

Unsurprisingly, this robot has already been the subject of threats. The City of San Francisco told the SF SPCA to keep its robot off the streets or face severe fines. The organization has no official permit to patrol the sidewalks or take any action against the people in its presence. However, no one can deny these homeless camps are getting out of hand in certain places, and a solution will need to be found sooner or later. Using robots is not the answer most people are looking for, though.

The device in question, the so-called K9 robot, is designed to detect criminal activity and alert authorities. This is achieved using GPS, lasers, cameras, and so forth. Such robots can only be rented for US$7 per hour rather than purchased directly. It is evident these robots are well worth it, as they are far cheaper than human labor. Nor do these machines need rest, vacation, or weekends off. They are viable replacements for security guards, especially for tasks like these, according to their manufacturer, Knightscope.

For the time being, the K9 robot will remain in place and continue to patrol the streets around the SF SPCA. Do keep in mind this robot should not be trifled with, and vandalizing it in any capacity will only make things more difficult. It is evident that efforts like these are not popular by any means, and it remains to be seen how this situation evolves. If this trial proves successful, we will likely see similar initiatives all over the world in short order.