San Francisco, CA – A robot security officer is out of work after being accused of discrimination.
The non-profit Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) in San Francisco was using a robot to patrol its property to deter crime, but they had to stop using it due to vandalism and complaints about discrimination.
In its first month on the job, the robot was battered with barbecue sauce, smeared with feces, covered by a tarp and nearly toppled by an attacker, according to the Washington Post.
“Effective immediately, the San Francisco SPCA has suspended its security robot pilot program,” Jennifer Scarlett, the organization’s president, said in a statement to the Washington Post. “We piloted the robot program in an effort to improve the security around our campus and to create a safe atmosphere for staff, volunteers, clients and animals. Clearly, it backfired.”
There was a public outcry after Scarlett told a local business publication that the robots were successfully keeping the homeless population from taking up residence on the property.
“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,” Scarlett told the San Francisco Business Times.
The animal shelter began using the 5’3” robot, dubbed “K-9” in November. The K5 Autonomous Data Machine can be hired for $6 an hour from Silicon Valley startup Knightscope, far less than paying a human security guard.
SPCA officials said the robot was hired to patrol the parking lot and sidewalk outside the animal shelter after the building had been broken into twice, and employees had become fed up with harassment and catcalls, the Washington Post reported.
The robot could snap photos, record security footage, and notify shelter employees or police during an emergency.
Scarlett said the robot successfully stopped the homeless from building encampments on the property. There were also fewer break-ins to cars in the campus parking lot while “K-9” was on duty.
The robot patrolled the sidewalks and parking lots for two weeks, until it was accused of discriminating against homeless people.
Fran Taylor, who works with pedestrian advocacy group Walk San Francisco, said the robots were also an invasion of privacy, according to Newsweek.
Taylor said the robots were “an obvious attack on the very people in San Francisco who are already having such a hard time surviving in this expensive city.”
San Francisco’s Department of Public Works has since issued the SPCA a warning not to operate the robots on sidewalks and other public right-of-ways without getting approval from the city. The city threatened a fine of up to $1,000 per day.
“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 said, according to Newsweek.