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San Francisco nonprofit uses robot to chase away homeless people

The San Francisco SPCA is using a robot to keep homeless people from blocking the sidewalks. So far, it seems to be working. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The San Francisco SPCA is using an autonomous robot to deter homeless people from loitering outside its sprawling facility in the Mission neighborhood, according to published reports.

Krista Maloney, a spokeswoman for the SF SPCA, told Business Insider that the pet adoption and animal advocacy organization bought the robot because too many homeless people were blocking the sidewalks. So far, it seems to be working, she said. There are fewer homeless people around and fewer car break-ins, according to Maloney.

The robot is called K9 and has pictures of dogs and cats pasted on it.

San Francisco Public Works employee and homeless advocate Sam Dodge wrote about the robot on Twitter:


When the city of San Francisco learned about the robot, it ordered the nonprofit to either get a permit to operate in a public right-of-way or face a fine of up to $1,000 a day, according to published reports.

How does the technology work?

The robot use four cameras and “lasers and sensors” to scan for criminal activity, according the website for Knightscope, a start-up company in Mountain View, California, that builds the robots. If criminal activity is suspected, the robots alert a “human authority.”

Notifications are also sent out for trespassers or people who are “on a blacklist,” the San Francisco Business Times reported.

Weighing in at 400 pounds, the robots stand at more than 5 feet tall and can travel up to 3 mph.

Are cities struggling to regulate robots?

San Francisco's plight reflects the struggle cities can face as they try to regulate the new technology. Robots are already scanning for crime and delivering food in cities in cities such as Boston, Atlanta, Dallas, and Tampa.

San Francisco supervisor Norman Yee wanted to ban the technology due to safety concerns. He later agreed to strict regulations on the technology. ZD Net, a technology news website, reported the new rules ban robots in most of the city. Yee told ZD Net his office is riddled with pedestrian complaints about the autonomous robots.

"Not every innovation is all that great for society," Yee said at a board of supervisors hearing last week when the new robot rules were approved.

Are more robots coming?

If developers of this new technology have their way, we’ll see more robots buzzing along our streets.

“We’re about to see a rising of this type of technology,” Stacy Dean Stephens, a co-founder of Knightscope, told McClatchy News in October. “It’s very reasonable to believe that by the end of next year, we’d have a couple of hundred of these out.”

Knightscope’s vision is to “predict and prevent crime utilizing autonomous robots, analytics and engagement,” according to its website.

The company also wants to deploy its robots as airport security guards.

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