Robots and the homeless are battling over San Francisco squatting space and city officials are trying to step between them.
The San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals has been using security robots along sidewalks and in its parking lot to stop the spread of a nearby homeless "tent city," the San Francisco Business Times reported.
The city's board of supervisors earlier this month ordered the SPCA to keep its security robots off the sidewalks or face fines up to $1,000 per day for operating in a public right-of-way without a permit, the Business Times said.
"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," SPCA president Jennifer Scarlett told the Business Times.
A security robot, created by the firm Knightscope, uses four cameras, moves at a pace of three miles per hour, and can be rented for $6 an hour, the The Verge reported. SPCA officials told the Business Times it was a way for them to deal with the growing number of needles, car break-ins and crime around its campus.
The robots can read up to 300 license plates per minute and send alerts when trespassers or people on a "blacklist" are in an area, the Business Times said.
Scarlett said it would cost the SPCA more than double to hire a human security officer at $14 per hour. The robots are still used in the parking lot, she said.
"I can understand being scared about a new technology on the street, and we should be asking questions about it, but we should probably be a little bit angry that a nonprofit has to spend so much on security at the same time," Scarlett told the Business Times.
The city's Department of Public Works, though, wrote the SPCA on Dec. 1 saying it did not have approval to use the robots on sidewalks.
Wired magazine reported that the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted Dec. 5 to severely restrict delivery robots on sidewalks, forcing startups to get permits under strict guidelines in particular zones like industrial areas with low foot traffic.
The San Francisco robots sparked reaction on social media.
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