Robots being used to shoo away homeless people in San Francisco

The City of San Francisco has ordered the local branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) to stop using a robot to patrol the sidewalks outside its office, according to a report in the San Francisco Business Times dated 8 December.

The SPCA deployed the robot, made by Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, to ensure that homeless people did not set up camps outside the it's office. The robot uses a combination of Lidar and other sensors, to alert security services of potentially criminal activity.

The robots had been involved in a number of mishaps in the past. One fell into a pond in Washington DC, in July, while another ran over child's foot in California in 2016. Uber has also used the robots in the city.

According to Popular Science, Knightscope's business model relies on renting the robots to customers for $7 an hour, which is about $3 less than minimum wage in California. The company is said to have raised more than $15 million from thousands of small investors.

In what is seen as adding insult to injury, the SPCA adorned the robot it was renting with stickers of cute kittens and puppies, according to Business Insider, as it was used to shoo away the homeless from near its office.

In an ultimatum to the organisation, the city has called for either the removal of the robot, or a fine of $1,000 per day for operating in the public right-of-way without a permit. According to the city, the robot poses a problem because it is operating on the sidewalk, which is city-owned property.

Meanwhile, Twitter is focusing on the SPCA's treatment of homeless people.

One person tweeted, "Shameful that an org that finds homes for homeless animals is treating homeless people like less-than humans."

The National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty weighed in saying, "It's disheartening that @SFSPCA would show such a lack of compassion to our houseless neighbors."