SF SPCA's robot security scaled back after criticism

An autonomous security robot, working in San Francisco has had its patrol area cut back until the property owner gets permission to redeploy it on public sidewalks. This technology, common on Silicon Valley companies and industrial parks, is now making its way into the public domain. 

The San Francisco SPCA comprises an entire city block in a mostly industrial area that has some crime, especially auto break ins. So, the SPCA put an autonomous security robot on its campus as well as surrounding sidewalks, and lo and behold, since K5 has been on the job, campus burglaries, auto break ins and vandalism, says the SPCA, have been greatly reduced.

The five-foot tall, 300-pound robot, called K5, uses cameras, laser 3D mapping, GPS, microphones and license plate recognition software.

A fairly large homeless campsite has also disappeared, but at one point, someone attacked the robot, restrained it and put barbecue sauce on its sensors.

"If somebody is messing with it and they're trying to keep it from moving and doing its duty, then it will begin to sound an alarm and it will send an alert back to the operations center," said Stacy Stephens of the manufacturer, Knightscope Robotics.

Today, there is but one tent, across the street, where the robot does not go. "I thought it was weird. I'd never seen anything like it. My dog constantly barked at it till about a week when he got used to it and it makes like a weird sound; kind of irritating," said Kevin, a homeless man.

The reason security robots are becoming so popular is that they can work all three shifts, they never get tired, they never take a nap and they never call in sick and they see everything.  But, still, humans have to interpret what they see.

But, city officials have told the SPCA to no longer deploy the robot on public sidewalks until such time it secures a permit or face a thousand dollar a day fine.

Both the SPCA and Sunnyvale-based Knightscope say there is no intent to clear homeless out of the area; but to make the SPCA campus safer for employees, visitors and the animals.