Last month, the San Francisco Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals deployed a 400-pound robot to help combat a sharp rise in car break-ins and other crime at one of its animal shelter facilities. On Thursday, the Knightscope K5 was benched amid complaints that it was being used to harass the neighborhood’s sizable homeless population, the Wall Street Journal reports. The shelter’s officials said break-ins and discarded drug needles had decreased at the Mission District campus after the robot was deployed. The white robot rolled along snapping photos that it relayed to human guards. “It’s scaring a lot of homeless, because they think it’s taking pictures of them,” said Moon Tomahawk, 38, an unemployed man who frequents the homeless encampments nearby.
The SPCA said it was pulling the plug on the K5 after the facility became the target of vandalism and threats over complaints the homeless were being victimized. “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,” the group said. Knightscope, based in Mountain View, Ca., defended its robot. “Contrary to sensationalized reports, Knightscope was not brought in to clear the area around the SF SPCA of homeless individuals,” said the company’s Stacy Dean Stephens. “Knightscope was deployed, however, to serve and protect the SPCA. The SPCA has the right to protect its property, employees and visitors, and Knightscope is dedicated to helping them achieve this goal.” The incident represents another collision of two of the city’s defining features—technology and homelessness.