Knightscope, a tech company that boasts an extensive range of security robot models, claims that their line of products gives law enforcement “superhuman” eyes and ears. Using an array of observational data from lasers and heat and motion sensors, the robots roll through city streets, college campuses and corporate holdings and alert the authorities when they detect a crime.
Knightscope charges $7 an hour to rent out one of their drones, which you may notice is less than minimum wage, undercutting the need for a company to pay a human being to be a security guard. The robots cannot intervene physically—the only thing they do is put out a call to the police. So where a security guard might gently ask a homeless person to leave an area near a business, this robot immediately gets the cops involved.
Apparently, the San Francisco SPCA, an animal advocacy group, thought one of these robots was the ideal solution to their problem with homeless people. Business Insider reports the SPCA enlisted the robot to break up homeless encampments on the street near their building, which they say were creating unsafe conditions for their workers. But don’t worry—when the robot rolls around ensuring homeless people can’t stay in one place, it has a picture of a cute little dog on it! Thanks, SPCA.
SPCA echoes Knightscope in saying the robots help to prevent crime. Never mind that The Washington Post points out that overpolicing leads to more racial resentment, not less crime—the SPCA say there have been fewer car break-ins in the area, so we suppose that means it’s all okay. Never mind that the cost of housing homeless people in San Francisco has been decreasing every year, the people of this technologically advanced, ideologically progressive city would much rather buy robots to keep them away.
This is a news story that could only come out of Silicon Valley. Rather than engage with homeless people or find a better, more human way to work out their problems, they throw money at a tech startup for a machine to do the work for them. San Francisco the city might be working to get better at helping its houseless people, but businesses and advocacy groups can’t be relied to feel enough empathy to do the same.
Business Insider reports the robot deployed by the SPCA has been vandalized multiple times in the month since its first use. The city of San Francisco ordered the SPCA to keep the robot off the streets or pay a fine of $1,000 for operating it without a permit.