hitchBOT, the Hitchhiking Robot—Where Is He Now?
WARNING: Don’t pick up hitchhikers! Roadside signs—and probably your mother—caution against giving rides to strangers, which is laudable. But, in the interest of research, sometimes it’s pretty cool to stop.
If you’re traveling across Canada and see a strangely cute little hitchhiker (roughly the size of an average six year old) waving to you from the side of the road, pull over. Even though this voyager has a face made from LED lights, a plastic beer pail torso, arms and legs that look like pool noodles (they are), and wearing a garbage can hat, it’s only hitchBOT, the Hitchhiking Robot, looking for a ride.
The idea behind hitchBOT came from Drs. Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University and David Harris Smith of McMaster University in 2013 and became a joint event between the Institute for Applied Creativity and the Anna Leonowens Gallery, both at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. The little robot’s journey began in late July 2014 in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with the goal of hitchhiking across Canada to eventually reach Victoria, British Columbia.
Why? The project is termed both an artwork and social robotics experiment. Dr. Zeller and Dr. Smith say, “We believe that through this artwork, we can learn a lot in terms of social robotics and how we approach robots in non-restricted, non-observed environments.” After all, they maintain that while humans may not fully trust the concept of robots, “...this project takes it the other way around and asks: Can robots trust human beings?”
Of course hitchBOT does depend on the kindness of strangers, so there are a few things to keep in mind if you spot him. You have to pick him up (he can’t walk), and don’t forget the seat belt (there’s one attached to his torso). If he appears tired, plug him in to the cigarette lighter of your car or a power outlet. And, his speech recognition is a work-in-progress.
Keep in mind that a journey like this can be overwhelming for a young robot. As hitchBOT says:
Please be patient – speaking human is rather difficult for me, and I only recently learned it. So when it’s quite noisy around me, or too many people talking to me, my brain hurts and I have to shut up for a while to find my inner peace again. This can take between 20 minutes and a couple of hours.
Good advice for everyone—robots and humans.
If you’re interested in other hitchhiking tales, revisit Jack Kerouac's On the Road or any of Lee Child’s bestselling books about the adventures of the hitchhiking ex-MP Jack Reacher. Enjoy!