Robot tourist hitchBOT's journey comes to abrupt end

Assisted in Canada, decapitated in Philadelphia.


The adventures of a robot hitchhiker at the center of a study on robot and human interaction have come to a sudden, violent end.

The hitchBOT (.PDF) is the child of Dr. David Smith from McMaster University and Dr. Frauke Zeller at Ryerson University. Developed in Port Credit, Ontario in 2013, the robot began hitchhiking across Canada in July 2014.

The robot is able to talk to humans through Cleverscript speech technology and is able to send messages across social networks about its current location. HitchBOT is geared up with GPS, solar panels for power, a camera and 3G technology to document its journey. However, the robot is unable to move by itself and had to rely on the goodwill of people to continue traveling.

HitchBOT's journey began in Canada and moved across Germany and the Netherlands, landing in the US only a few weeks ago.

The journey ended after hitchBOT snatched a ride to Philadelphia. Instead of helping the robot out, a vandal decapitated hitchBOT and destroyed its electronics.

HitchBOT was designed to see if "robots could trust humans," according to the team. Explaining this further, hitchBOT's own take on hitchhiking around the world was described as such:

"I want to take my time and also meet a variety of people, so I hope those I meet will be generous and understanding.

I think my trip will lead to conversations about how robots and humans can live in harmony, and I hope that humans and robots can learn to trust each other as a result of my journey."

The experiment is now sadly over for hitchBOT, at the least, but it does raise some interesting questions about how humans and robots interact. Vandals will always exist, but the fact hitchBOT was able to travel so far does reveal that a number of people are happy to interact with and trust robotics -- and as a social experiment, may point to the increased acceptance of robot use across the West.

Despite the robot's demise, the hitchBOT experiment is staying positive. A message from the family said:

"hitchBOT's trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, and New York City. Unfortunately, hitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots.

We know that many of hitchBOT's fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over. For now we will focus on the question "what can be learned from this?" and explore future adventures for robots and humans.

We have no interest in pressing charges or finding the people who vandalized hitchBOT; we wish to remember the good times, and we encourage hitchBOT's friends and fans to do the same."

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