A security robot is being used in San Francisco to deter homeless people from forming “tent cities”. The robot uses lasers, sensors and GPS to monitor the area, and alerts the authorities if it detects criminal activity. It is owned by the San Francisco SPCA, an animal advocacy and pet adoption group, who put it to work outside its facility.
This has gathered a mixed response, with some seeing it as an intelligent way to safeguard facilities, and others as a lack of empathy for the homeless.
Recently the City of San Francisco ordered the SF SPCA to keep the robot off the sidewalk, or face being fined up to $1000 per day for operating on the streets without a permit.
The question goes beyond how far we should be taking technology. In truth, the debate turns around the questions of rights in public spaces: the right to be present, the right to participate in public life, and the right to be treated respectfully. Already these are contested questions for humans, animals and the environment: now we must also look at the rights of robots and drones.