Canada’s hitchBOT travels 4,000 miles to test human-robot bonds


The offspring of a marriage between art and science, Canada’s hitchhiking robot has won thousands of thumbs-ups as it tweeted its adventures across 4,000 miles of North America over the last three weeks.

The preschooler-sized contraption made of a cylindrical beer cooler, an inverted cake keeper, rubber gloves and blue foam tubing has kept tens of thousands of followers on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram abreast of its adventures since leaving Halifax, Nova Scotia, on July 26.

HitchBOT wrapped up the cross-continental journey Monday with a visit to Victoria’s Empress Hotel for afternoon tea, ahead of its ultimate destination at the Open Space artists’ center in the British Columbia capital on Thursday.


On its way across the breadth of Canada, hitchBOT was picked up by dozens of trusting drivers, brought along on a Native American gathering of the Wikwemikong tribe in Ontario and has boogied to the Harlem Shake in Saskatchewan and crashed a wedding in Golden, B.C., according to Canadian media accounts of its awesome road trip.

“I need to recharge, hitchhiking is tough,” the robot tweeted toward the end of the journey that drained its solar-powered energy system, according to CBC News.

The robot, equipped with global positioning system, 3G connectivity and solar panels to power its communications systems, was the brainchild of communications professors David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University.

“HitchBOT is an outgoing and charismatic robot,” its creators pronounced in a news release last month alerting drivers to be on the lookout for the experimental traveler.

Smith said in interviews with Canadian media that the project was conceived as a way to explore “the interaction between people and increasingly ubiquitous technology.”

The robot was programmed to recognize human speech and respond appropriately, as well as to send out tweets, likes and photos of its adventures on the road.


“HitchBOT will have to rely on people to get around, including being strapped into a car seat belt,” Smith said. “We expect hitchBOT to be charming and trustworthy enough in its conversation to secure rides across Canada.”

Apparently, both robot and drivers were well behaved. The academics reported hitchBOT made it to Victoria without falling victim to foul play, although the Toronto Sun said its communications skills were showing signs of wear by the end of the journey.

“Do you love me? Do you know the origin of the universe? What’s your favorite football team?” it asked schoolchildren in Tseycum in an eruption of pent-up curiosity.

Ryerson’s Zeller said the hitchhiking mission was meant to look at the relationship between man and machine from a different perspective.

“Usually, we are concerned with whether we can trust robots,” she said. “This project asks: Can robots trust human beings?”

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