Fired: Robot Buyers Risk Brand Damage

By: John Honovich, Published on Dec 18, 2017

Fired. The robot definitely, and maybe the security buyer as well, depending on how bad things get.

Suffice to say, most security managers are focused on managing and mitigating risk, not increasing it in an attempt to go 'viral'.

First, a robot ran over a child, than a drunken man beat one up, then a robot committed 'suicide' and now a robot has been fired over a public uproar:

Drama aside, it does underscore an important point for security buyers considering robots - robots, used imprudently, risk creating major brand damage for the buyer.

In this note, we examine:

  • The role of social media in increasing risk
  • How mainstream media taps into this
  • Avoiding brand damage

*****. *** ***** **********, and ***** *** ******** ***** as ****, ********* ** how *** ****** ***.

******* ** ***, **** security ******** *** ******* on ******** *** ********** risk, *** ********** ** in ** ******* ** go '*****'.

*****,* ***** *** **** a *****, ***** ******* *** **** one **, ***** ***** ********* '*******'*** *** ****** *** **** ***** over * ****** ******:

***** *****, ** **** underscore ** ********* ***** for ******** ****** *********** robots - ******, **** imprudently, **** ******** ***** brand ****** *** *** buyer.

** **** ****, ** examine:

  • *** **** ** ****** media ** ********** ****
  • *** ********** ***** **** into ****
  • ******** ***** ******


Brand ******

*** *** ********* ****** shelter ***** * ******** robot ***** *** ************** *** ********** ******* *** ****:

***** ****story *** **** *****, we've received hundreds of messages inciting violence and vandalism against our facility and encouraging people to take retribution. In addition, we've already experienced two acts of vandalism on our campus. [emphasis added]

**** *** ****'* ******** that *** ***** ***** viral being * *** ********* of *** **** ********.

Social *****

****** ***** ***** ** much ****** ** **** things *** * *** easier *** ****** ** find *********** ******* **** might ****** ****'* ******. Combine **** **** ******'* strong ******** (**** ******** and ********) ******* ****** and *** ***** ********.

*** **** ****** ***** ****** media **** ** ********** *** **** *** 140,000+ ******** *** ***,***+ likes:

** ** *** **** social ***** *****, *** damage ***** ** *******. But ***** ****** ***** posts ***** ** ******* to ********** ************ ** cover ******. *** **** posts, *** **** ***** a **** ***, *** more ********* * *********** can ** ** *** reads ** **** *******.

Mainstream *****

******* * *****, *** mainstream ***** ***** ******** robots, ** **** *********, loves ** ****** ***** problems **** ******** ******. So ******* * ******** robot ** *********** ****** an ********** *** * viral ***** ********.

**** ******* ******* *** metaphors:

** '*** ** *** boss' ******: 

** ******* *****:

*** ** **** ***** the ***:

Unfair ** ******?

** ********* ** **** to ****** ******* **** treatment ** ****** ** robot ****** ** ***** users. ****** ***, *** reality ** **** (*) lots ** ****** *** sensitive ***** **** *** (2) *** ********** ***** is ****** ********* ** cover **** *****.

Avoiding ***** ******

******* ** ****** *** using ******** ******, *** most ******* ******* *** to:

  • ***** *** *****'* *********** with ******, ****** *** only ******** *** **** employees *** *** ** coached / *******.
  • *** ** ***** ***** no ****** *** ******** to **.

**** *** **** ******* changes ** ******** *********, it ************ **** ************ ******* **** ******* is ******* *********** **** the ***** (***** ** a ******* ***** *** and *** *** ********* future **** ****** *** fascinated *** *********** ******** by ****** * *****).

***** ********* **** **** this *********** *** ******** but *** ******* ** that, ** ***** *****, most ****** *** *** ready *** ******** ****** to ****** ******* *** public.

Factoring ** ***** ****** ****

** **** *****, ***** have **** ****** ******, with ****** ********, **** any ******* ******** ***** has ** ********* ******** the ****** ** ***** 'robot' ***** '*****'. * robot ***** ** **** to **** **** ***** on ****** (****** ****'* still *********) *** *** cost ** ***** ****** from **** ********* ** greatly ****** *** ******* that ****** **** ** have * ***** **** of *** **** ***** being *** **** ***** sensation.

Comments (26)

One of the less mentioned “advantages” of robo vs real guards:

Easier to fire.

However, in some cases robots are less expensive than real people. Imagine the lawsuit that would occur if a REAL guard drowned at a facility. 

I think these are all good points and important considerations for any security manager considering robots. But so far is seems most of the controversy has come from the People's Socialist Republic of California. Has there been that much controversy, or use, outside the PSRC?

seems most of the controversy has come from the People's Socialist Republic of California

Well, the robot that committed 'suicide' occurred in DC.

Most of Khightscope's 50 or so robots have been deployed in California primarily because the company is based in California and naturally found it easier to market in California.

We'll see if California makes the difference, but like the DC incident showed, I suspect that the media will find robots interesting and controversial all over the place.

I really hate the idea of the homeless being a protected class in this scenario. The Knightscopes were not armed and posed no threat of bodily harm. They simply patrolled the area and recorded. It made an actual difference in the number of needles discarded in the area.

The fact that it disrupted homeless encampments because there was illegal activity in said encampments (as demonstrated by the needles thrown about) shows that the drug additions are what keep them homeless and that they only have their addictions to blame.

I typically lean left on a lot of issues, but I can safely say that certain groups don't want to be saved, so why should we waste resources on them? Why should they be given free reign over public spaces?

I'm not a bleeding heart, but I disagree in the strongest terms that homeless people are marginal and that robots are the answer to keep things in check.

I typically lean right on most issues, but throwing expensive robot gadgets at a social issue like drugs and addiction is only compelling to those who want to avoid getting their hands dirty actually dealing with the people involved.

Not saying all addicts can be helped, but saying none of them can is wrong too.  Further removing the homeless, addicts, and indigent from human police oversight perpetuates them as less than people.  And that's coming from someone who is steeped in close LEO friends and neighbors.


Of course, and it is very important to have empathy for the homeless. However, if they were that important, what are the dedicated associations for taking care of these individuals doing that they have overflowed in such a manner? Many of these are our veterans even, but having robot guards isn't dehumanizing them IMO.

There has to be a balance. If the complaints of individuals about needles littering the area exist in a place where a different charitable organization operates then it should be addressed. Even if the SPCA is built on compassion, that doesn't mean they suddenly need to stray from their stated mission. They already have their hands dirty dealing with animals. It is where people expect their money to go when donating to them.

Homelessness and addiction are not within their scope or capability and if people who want to take care of animals are disturbed by the homeless there then they should have a solution. I can only imagine since there are plenty of aggressive panhandlers who actually are offended when you don't give freely to them especially in front of other places of businesses.

I've been approached recently by such individuals aggressively when I was out with friends in Dallas and they would simply press the issue because they saw you help another person out or you are about to walk into a bar. They aggressively guilt trip you and act as if you are not entitled to what you are about to spend elsewhere. In Houston there are some force their "services" onto stopped vehicles at intersections and demand the donations when they weren't welcomed in the first place. Imagine them disturbing patrons of the SPCA saying "you have enough to care for pets, but you don't have any for me?"

There's compassion from a distance, but there's the other side of the coin where these individuals can be disturbances.

What was the issue here..? The way I read it, it was robots patrolling SPCA property, not robots patrolling public areas outside of SPCA property. Did I read it wrong?

If it's just patrolling SPCA property, then what is the difference between a guard or police office warning off trespassers, or a robot alerting to intruder's presence and calling a guard or police officer to warn off a trespasser?

what is the difference between a guard or police office warning off trespassers

A robot doing it taps into some widely held fears:

  • Employment - people (e.g. guards) losing their jobs to robots
  • Control - robots are controlling / subjugating humans

I am not saying that's right or wrong but those themes are certainly expressed in popular culture.


The robots were patrolling the public sidewalks outside of (but next to/near) the SPCA facility - which is why the city shut them down from doing so, stating that the robot can't patrol sidewalks without a permit.

The robots were patrolling the public sidewalks outside of (but next to/near) the SPCA facility

Then I would tend to agree they probably over-reached there, not just from the standpoint of the robot's still limited abilities to interact with the general public, but from what should have been considered a greater risk to public relations and liability than necessary. They should have kept it on the property grounds.

Staying on your own property is always best, but what about the easements?...

I don't know if this applies in San Fran, but in many jurisdictions the property owner is responsible for the care of the easements to the curb (sidewalks). That said, they are responsible to mow, weed, prune trees, repair damaged sidewalks, but are not responsible for manmade safety issues?

I see no harm in the animal shelter patrolling the sidewalks, but they shouldn't have used premature robot technology. This would have been a non-story had they used a security officer.  

Folks, let me shed some light on this... I lived in the Bay Area and I lived in SF for 9 years. Not to mention I sell security robots for  

In 2015 there was a huge story about how  Saint Mary's Cathedral, which is huge and principal church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of San Francisco. Installed water sprinklers outside the building to drive the homeless off. As you can imagine, public outcry about the hypocrisy of this went nuclear, not just in California, but nationally. 

Because of this debacle, the City of SF has strict policies now when dealing with the homeless, which has always been a tough problem in SF.  The bottom line, you must work with the City and the police period...  Frankly, the SPCA did not do their homework and look fools. And in it's rush to sell another robot, Knightscope ignored where the building is located (Light industrial area, with large homeless population and rough neighborhood. I would not want to be around there at night by myself). This reminds me of a friend that visited San Francisco from Oregon. He drove his Porsche down and I told him to park in certain areas only and he ignored me and bingo... street people vandalized it to the tune of $3500 bucks.   The bottom line here, in sales sometimes you need to tell the customer "NO!"   And with our robot I've had to do this multiple times... Remember,  Robocop was a movie. 

Happy Holidays and have a safe New Year!



Here in the People's Republic of California there are lots of business with little tiny brass plates in their sidewalks with fine print that says "permission to pass granted by property owner" or some such thing.  One has to check if the "public sidewalk" you're walking on is really public.  I didn't think the city got involved with telling them to remove it.  (Haven't chased that, more interested in "is a security robot" conversation than classic SF over-reliance on mis-placed tech ;-)

"permission to pass granted by property owner"

That's funny and something I would have expected more from Texas than Cali.

A guard patrolling would have been creepy too.  You need to guard the sidewalk outside your business, and you're not a bank or something like that?  What next, automatic weapons for McDonalds drive-through cashiers?



May seem creepy, but yes, sometimes it is necessary.  A popular company (Sorel, owned by Columbia Sportswear) in my hometown of Portland, OR is now looking to move their new Corp HQ from downtown to the outskirts due to death threats, vandalism, and overall safety concerns due to the homeless in the area.

Creepy is one thing, but it beats having incident after incident that makes your own employees uncomfortable even walking to their cars.

There are down on their luck homeless (the kind I think Brian was talking about), and there are anti-civilization homeless (the kind I think Robert was talking about), and various levels and reasons in between.

Setting aside the myriad of reasons why a person is homeless, the fact is wherever there are homeless, there follows crime, drug use, and lowering of business patronage and property value. So what is a business to do?

Can anyone say what the robot did exactly to the homeless?

I don’t think it was anything like ”Move Along! Move Along!”


The issue isn't limited to robots, but to any technology that (a) appears to threaten people, and (b) is easy to vandalize. 

Because my employer sells red light and speed cameras (but not in the United States), I subscribe to several feeds on the topic. One feed from an anti-camera organization gleefully reports every instance in which a speed camera is vandalized. When I see a headline stating "Speed cameras in France vandalized," I can almost picture the writer saying to him/herself, "Isn't that COOL?"

Perhaps robots don't have to be limited to places with no people or employees only. Perhaps they can be used in places with a non-transient population who interacts with the robots regularly. Nursing homes and long-term care centers come to mind (provided that the more elderly populations in such facilities are comfortable with the technology). I'd be a little reluctant to deploy in junior high schools, though...

John, I appreciate your comments and found them informative. I have nothing against robot guards that alert on presence. But if anyone wanted to draw a comparison to robot guard acceptance to red light cameras, it might not go exactly the way they think. At least here in the US, red light cameras have been followed by corruption and misuse. It could hurt the cause of robot guard acceptance if they make that comparison.

At least here in the US, red light cameras have been followed by corruption and misuse...

Do you think that is what is driving the vandalism?

Not mostly, but maybe partly. I think people are feeling pressured, that every move and sound they make is being watched with little tolerance for human mistakes and momentary flaws. So they lash out in general.

It's stories like these that make me really grateful I don't live in California. Shame, such a beautiful state.

OMG, if you like totally lived here you would see how totally awesome it is if you are like a liberal mega millionaire or celebrity. 

For the rest of us we just SMH and drink McDonalds coffee. 

OMG, if you like totally lived here you would see how totally awesome it is if you are like a liberal mega millionaire...

This is the real reason it’s called the “left coast”.

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