SF to launch office regulating emerging technology in 2020

Yee: city will permit ‘net common good’ innovation

San Francisco will launch a new office next month to regulate emerging technology after the Board of Supervisors approved legislation Tuesday that will welcome innovation that results in a “net common good.”

Introduced by board president Norman Yee, the Office of Emerging Technology will serve as the main place for tech companies to go to apply to launch their services.

The proposal was inspired by recent innovations like sandwich-delivering robots and e-scooters.

The office, which city officials said will launch in January, is also meant to coordinate and streamline processes for companies to apply for a permit.

“If you have a company that is offering an interesting and new technology that does not put our residents safety at risk or have a negative impact to our public infrastructure then this office will welcome you,” Yee said. “If a technology offers a net common good there is now a path for approval through this office.”

The office will review any application to pilot emerging technologies and determine whether to grant a permit. The office will also evaluate the pilot. The office will analyze proposals for impacts on

safety, such as impacts on pedestrians, data privacy, impact on public infrastructure and the labor market.

It will cost $2,006 to submit an application for review.

The legislation defines emerging technologies as “one or more physical objects, whether mobile or stationary, that constitute or incorporate new electronic or mobile technologies or applications of technology and which are proposed for use upon, above, or below City property and/or public right-of-way.”

Operating an emerging technology without approval would result in administrative fines up to $1,000 per day, criminal fines up to $100 per day for the first violation, and civil penalties up to $500 per day.

“If an emerging tech company launches their device without approval we now for the first time will have the mechanism to stop these bad players and reward the innovators that are committed to being good players with the city,” Yee said.

The tech association sf.citi said it is supportive of the office’s creation and praised Yee and his staff for collaborating on the proposal.

“We believe that the Supervisor’s approach of working with—rather than against—industry to build legislation is the kind of leadership this City needs to be successful,” said Jennifer Stojkovic, an sf.citi spokesperson. “Our member companies employ tens of thousands of residents in high-paying, quality jobs and provide a key role in the economic backbone of the City and its crucial programs and services to residents. As Supervisor Yee exemplified in working with our members on the creation of OET, the continued economic success of this City is reliant upon industry and government working together to craft smart, effective policies and regulations.”

The San Francisco Chamber of Commerce also said it was supportive.

“We’re excited to see the creation of the Office of Emerging Technology and hopeful that it can be a place where businesses and government can collaborate on the new technologies that San Franciscans want and need,” chamber spokesperson Jay Cheng said. “We think the Office can be a place that encourages, not limits, innovations that can make San Francisco a better and more affordable place to live.”

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