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San Francisco Wonders: Will Regulating Robots on the Sidewalk Prevent the Invention of a Robot That Collects Used Syringes?

Photo: Marble

Robots: love them or hate them, they definitely exist, and are coming for our jobs. Can these robots be trusted? Nobody knows. San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors is also wary of the robots, and this week it passed restrictions on where robots can operate.

According to the San Francisco Examiner, the new legislation “allow[s] for limited permits for robots to use public sidewalks only in largely industrial and warehouse areas of The City, known as areas zoned as production, distribution and repair (or PDR), and where there are fewer pedestrians ‘for these devices to bump into.’” Robot manufacturers in the tech capital of America were opposed to the move, though the city already bans bikes and Segways on the sidewalk.

Still, might this move to keep experimental technology out of the public space stifle innovation? San Francisco — a gilded city that is increasingly inhospitable to anyone without seed funding from a venture-capital firm or angel investor — has a significant problem with homelessness and injection drug use, one that at least one supervisor thinks tech can help solve. Supervisor Malia Cohen theorized that outlawing robots from the sidewalk would prevent tech companies from inventing “a robot that picks up needles.” A Roomba for heroin, if you will.

On the flip side, Supervisor Norman Yee imagined, “20,000 robots roaming around the streets and people have to walk not on the sidewalks but have to walk on the streets with the cars.” Strange times indeed.

San Francisco Ponders a Robot That Collects Used Syringes