Robot Used to Harass San Francisco's Homeless Has Been Stopped

Following backlash, the San Francisco SPCA announced it will no longer use the robot outside its campus.

Homeless person begs along a sidewalk in downtown San Francisco

Andrew Loy begs along a sidewalk in downtown San Francisco, California on Tuesday, June, 28, 2016. Homelessness is on the rise in the city irking residents and bringing the problem under a spotlight. / AFP / Josh Edelson (Photo credit should read JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images)

Homeless person begs along a sidewalk in downtown San Francisco

Remember that five-foot-tall robot that was being used to scare away homeless people? Well, it’s now out of a job.

According to Ars Technica, the Knightscope machine known as “K9” will no longer patrol the parking lot and sidewalks outside the San Francisco SPAC office. The animal advocacy group announced the news Thursday, after it received backlash for using the robot against the city’s homeless population.

The S.F. SPCA president Dr. Jennifer Scarlett explained the decision in a statement to Ars:

Although we had already limited the use of the robot to our parking lot, we think a more fully informed, consensus-oriented, local approach on the appropriate use of these new devices will benefit everyone—whether it's on public space or in private parking lots... We welcome guidance from the city on policies for the use of autonomous security robots. Since this story has gone viral, we've received hundreds of messages inciting violence and vandalism against our facility and encouraging people to take retribution. In addition, we've already experienced two acts of vandalism on our campus.

Following a series of car break-ins, theft, and vandalism, the S.F. SPCA rented K9 to patrol its parking lot and deter homeless people from setting up camps on the sidewalk outside of the office. The robot, which is equipped with cameras, GPS, lasers, and thermal sensors, can alert authorities about any illegal activity it comes across. The organization said it has witnessed a significant decrease in crime since it began using K9 outside its building; however, in a recent statement to Ars, SPCA spokeswoman Donna Michaels insisted the organization never intended to use K9 against the neighborhood’s homeless population.

“Contrary to sensationalized reports, Knightscope was not brought in to clear the area around the S.F. SPCA of homeless individuals,” she wrote. “Knightscope was deployed, however, to serve and protect the SPCA. The SPCA has the right to protect its property, employees and visitors, and Knightscope is dedicated to helping them achieve this goal. The SPCA has reported fewer car break-ins and overall improved safety and quality of the surrounding area.”

SPCA’s decision to halt the use of K9 may have also been influenced by the city’s recent warning. Officials demanded the organization to take the robot off the sidewalk or risk a $1,000 penalty for each day its used in public without a permit. 

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