San Francisco residents continue to rage against the machines.
While the city’s board of supervisors moves toward finalizing limits on robots that roam the sidewalks to deliver food and goods, it must also find a way to handle security robots that patrol public sidewalks.
The S.F. SPCA in the Mission started using a security robot about a month ago in its parking lot and on the sidewalks around its campus, which takes up a whole city block at Florida St. and 16th St. Last week, the city ordered the SPCA to keep its robot off the sidewalks or face a penalty of up to $1,000 per day for operating in the public right-of-way without a permit.
The security robot is just the latest in a growing list of uses for robots around the city, from rental agents to food couriers. The robot surge could draw local government into more questions about its role in regulating the machines, especially if they operate in the public right-of-way.
For the SPCA, the security robot, which they’ve dubbed K9, was a way to try dealing with the growing number of needles, car break-ins and crime that seemed to emanate from nearby tent encampments of homeless people along the sidewalks.
“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,” Jennifer Scarlett, the S.F. SPCA’s president, told the Business Times.
Once the SPCA started using the robot on the sidewalks around its campus in early November, Scarlett said, there were no more homeless encampments. There were also fewer break-ins to cars in the campus parking lot. It’s not clear that the robot was the cause of the decreases, Scarlett added, but they were correlated.
The people in the encampments showed their displeasure with the robot’s presence at least once. Within about a week of the robot starting its automated route along the sidewalks, some people setting up a camp “put a tarp over it, knocked it over and put barbecue sauce on all the sensors,” Scarlett said.
The robot upset local resident Fran Taylor, too. Last month, the robot approached Taylor while she walked her dog near the SPCA campus. Her dog started lunging and barking, she said, and Taylor yelled for the robot to stop. It finally came to a halt about 10 feet away, she said.
The encounter struck Taylor as an “unbelievable” coincidence since she had been working with pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco in asking the city to limit sidewalk delivery robots. That legislation is expected to receive final approval soon but doesn’t apply to security robots like K9.