In a Dystopian Move, the SPCA Is Using a Robot to Scare off Homeless People

A Dystopian Present

In a controversial move, the San Francisco SPCA, an animal advocacy and pet adoption group, is using an autonomous security robot outside of their facilities in an explicit attempt to keep homeless people off of the sidewalk.

The security robot, which the SF SPCA calls K9, is part of a fleet of security robots operated by Silicon Valley-based robotics company Knightscope. These bots are armed with cameras, lasers, thermal sensors, and GPS, and they are designed to serve as an extra set of eyes and ears for security guards and law enforcement.

Bill Santana Li, CEO of Knightscope, claims the sheer presence of the security robot can discourage crime. “If I put a marked law enforcement vehicle in front of your home or your office, criminal behavior changes,” he told Business Insider.

Krista Maloney, media relations manager for the SF SPCA, told Business Insider that staff members weren’t able to safely access the sidewalk outside of the facility because of existing homeless encampments. Since K9’s launch a month ago, encampments have lessened, as have car break-ins.

Controversy Abounds

While K9 is having the impact the SF SPCA hoped for, the security robot, which resembles a Whovian Dalek, has come under fire from the local government and residents.

According to the San Francisco Business Times, the City of San Fransisco has ordered the group to keep the robot off of the public sidewalk, where it has been operating without a permit. If the SF SPCA doesn’t comply, they’ll have to pay a $ 1,000 per day fine.

Meanwhile, some citizens have described the introduction of the robot as lacking compassion.

As San Fransisco has evolved into a major technology hub, homelessness and poverty rates have skyrocketed. Many who work within the city can’t even afford to live near it, and more and more are being priced out onto the streets.

The SPCA is not the one to blame for this situation. While the organization has chosen a less-than-ideal way to address the problem of homelessness around their campus, the underlying issues that make basic shelter and resources inaccessible for so many are problems that fall on all of society to fix.

Wealth disparity and a lack of public support and health resources continue to be major contributing factors to homelessness. If we want a future where the sidewalks are free from patrolling, observing robots, these root problems need to be addressed.

Hopefully, the public outcry about the cold and dystopian nature of K9 will spark action about the growing homelessness issue in San Fransisco and other cities. While one sidewalk became temporarily less congested thanks to this high-tech robot, the homeless problem is extends far beyond the SF SPCA’s campus.

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Hexagonal Pods Attached to Buildings Could Help Solve New York’s Homeless Problem

A Home for the Homeless

There’s been a 40 percent increase in the number of homeless people living in New York City since 2012. As reported by the Gothamist earlier this year, the Department of Homeless Services counted 3,892 homeless individuals in one night — over 1,000 more people than 2016’s 2,794. A lack of affordable housing and ineffective rent regulations are said to be a couple of contributing factors to the rising percentage, but New York-based creative agency Framlab believes it has come up with an effective — and creative — solution to the problem.

The company proposes constructing and mounting scaffolding to the windowless sides of buildings, then slotting newly made hexagon-shaped pods inside. The project, called Homed, would be taking advantage of the “vertical land” NYC still offers, while its remaining land becomes more and more scarce.

Concept Image of the Homed Pods attached to a building. Image Credit: Framlab
Concept Image of the Homed Pods attached to a building. Image Credit: Framlab

“Although almost every square foot of space in NYC has been claimed, there still manages to exist an abundance of ‘vertical lots’ sitting idle,” said Framlab to Dezeen. “These are the blank sidewalls of buildings that emerge and disappear as new developments come and go, providing hundreds of acres of available ‘land.’”

Creative and Stylish

Framlab explains that each pod is meant to comfortably hold a single person and can be tailored to fit their needs and lifestyle. Access is gained via a staircase built into the aforementioned scaffolding. The pods are easy to assemble and fit together, which also allows them to be easily removed if they — or the building they’re attached to — are in need or repairs or expansions.

Interestingly enough, the windows equipped to the individual pods —  in addition to being PMMA smart glass and offering some much needed transparency and privacy — can also be used to display ads or artwork. This opens up the possibility of the pods generating revenue or potentially paying for themselves.

Interior look of a Homed Pod. Image Credit: Framlab
Interior look of a Homed Pod. Image Credit: Framlab

“This is a response to a host of factors which the typical shelter spaces are unable to provide, many of which are crucial for acceptable qualities of life: privacy, safety, individuality, self-esteem, among others,” writes Framlab on their website.

Despite the project’s creativity and ambition, the agency notes that Homed is not a solution to the homeless problem, and should be seen as “an instrument that plays a part in the solution.” There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to get the project off the ground, but if it works out, it could significantly reduce the number of people living on the streets, especially if the idea is expanded to other cities and states.

Homed pods may not be luxury apartments — or even houses — but not having to worry about where they’re going to sleep can go a long way for people trying to get their lives back in order.

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