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Hitchhiking robot that made it across Canada maimed on U.S. road trip

Robots of the world beware: Immigrating to the U.S. is apparently a perilous choice.

HitchBot, a talking robot built by Canadian researchers, was found maimed and battered beyond repair over the weekend in Philadelphia. It was trying to hitchhike from Massachusetts to California by relying on the kindness of human drivers. Hitchhiking took hitchBot across the length of Canada and most of Germany and the Netherlands.

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But it lasted just two weeks in the U.S. and couldn't escape the East Coast.

"My trip must come to an end for now, but my love for humans will never fade," the robot said in his last Facebook message.

Professors Frauke Zeller and David Harris Smith designed the robot to learn about how people interact with technology and ask the question, "Can robots trust human beings?"

HitchBot had a GPS tracker, a cellular chip and a camera. It could hold basic conversations, offering charming jests and reciting random facts. The size of a 6-year-old child, it relied on solar charging and cigarette lighters in cars for energy.

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FOR THE RECORD

Aug. 3, 5:09 p.m.: An earlier version of this article referred to hitchBot as male. The robot was gender neutral.

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"Its overall design, with a plastic bucket for a body, pool noodle arms and legs, and matching rubber gloves and boots was meant to be quirky and fun," the researchers wrote in a Harvard Business Review article last year. "The low-tech look of it was intended to signal approachability rather than suggesting a complex high-end gadget.

HitchBot's free-spirited demeanor was important, the researchers said, because it led people to be more creative in how they treated it compared to the way people might act around a purpose-built machine. HitchBot was more artsy than functional, and thus a pleasure to work with.

"By leaving more room for people to define and decide how to interact with robots, these machines can unleash creativity in the workplace," the researchers said.

They plan to review what the stateside failure means while exploring "future adventures for robots and humans."

"We have no interest in pressing charges or finding the people who vandalized hitchBot," the research team said in a prepared statement. "We wish to remember the good times."

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HitchBot is survived by art-critic older brother kulturBot.

Chat with me on Twitter @peard33

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