HitchBOT, the Hitchhiking Robot, Hits the Road

By: | September 6th, 2014

Attention all Canadians: If you spot an adorable smiling robot on the side of the road, PLEASE put it in your car and have a conversation with it. Seriously, you should do it. If not for the sake of saying you made a robot friend, then do it for science.

As we told you last month here on Industry Tap, an out-of-the-ordinary study has driven David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University to make a friendly test subject all on their own. A traveling robot, accurately named hitchBOT, has now hit the road to test the notion of how humans and robots interact with one another.

HitchBOT’s journey began in Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 27. It will be traveling a total of 6,000 km to Victoria, British Columbia. It’s unclear how long the journey will take becaues the route it will be taking is at the hands of the one who picks hitchBOT up on the road side.

HitchBOT does not look like the Hollywood portrayal of robots. Its arms and legs are pool noodles. It has rubber glove hands and rain boots for feet. However, its lack of style is made up for in personality and its charming LED light display smile. When hitchBOT gets a ride westbound, it politely talks trivia with the driver, answers questions about how it was made and its mission to the west. The robot even has the ability to access Wikipedia API to engage in conversation about a variety of topics.

Its power source comes from the solar panels on its design, as well as a power adapter to charge it in the car so hitchBOT can keep going after it gets dropped off.

There is obvious concern for hitchBOT as it runs the risk of not-so-nice people looking to cause harm to the robotic traveler. The stereotype of Canadians being rather polite will really be put to the test here. If any harm or mishaps do come upon hitchBOT, it could be recovered with its integrated GPS and 3G connection. The internet connection also allows it to send updates to Twitter, Facebook and its website monitoring its progress.

“I am excited and a bit nervous about whether people will pick me up or if they will be nice to me along the way,” hitchBOT stated in a press release. “I don’t have a specific route and I’m not sure how long it will take but I’m up for the adventure. I hope my fellow Canadians will help me with my journey.”

This experiment doesn’t ask the frequent question can humans trust robots? but rather can robots trust humans?

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Austin Miller

I am an aspiring physicist, with an interest in art and technology.

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