hitchBOT was a Canadian "hitchhiking robot" created by professors David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University in 2013. It gained international attention for successfully hitchhiking across Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, but in 2015 its attempt to hitchhike across the United States ended prematurely when the robot was stripped and decapitated in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Smith, who had hitchhiked across Canada 3 times, and Zeller had "designed the robot to learn about how people interact with technology and ask the question, "Can robots trust human beings?"" The robot was not able to walk – it completed its "hitchhiking" journeys by "asking" to be carried by those who picked it up. The robot was able to carry on basic conversation and talk about facts, and was designed to be a robotic travelling companion while in the vehicle of the driver who picked it up. As a social experiment, it was also given social media accounts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
The robot had a cylindrical body composed mainly of a plastic bucket, with two flexible "arms" and two flexible "legs" attached to the torso. The top section of the body was transparent, containing a screen which displayed eyes and a mouth, making the robot approximately humanoid in external appearance. It was small and had a look the team described as "yard-sale chic", to evoke trust and empathy, and had a child's car seat base to be easily and safely transportable. It was powered either by solar power or by cigarette lighter sockets in cars. It had a GPS device and a 3G connection, which allowed researchers to track its location. It was equipped with a camera, which took photographs periodically to document its journeys.
The robot's "hitchhiking" was reported by the press in many countries. From July 27, 2014 to August 21, 2014, it hitchhiked across Canada from the Institute for Applied Creativity at NSCAD University Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Victoria, British Columbia. At a First Nations powwow, it was given a name translating as "Iron Woman". The robot was so popular that its GPS had to be disabled sometimes to prevent crowds bothering those who took it into their homes.
A second hitchBOT machine was made, and in February 2015 it was hitchhiking around Germany for 10 days. For 3 weeks in June 2015, it hitched around the Netherlands. HitchBOT then attempted to cross the United States from Boston to San Francisco starting on July 17, 2015. After 2 weeks, on August 1, 2015 however, a photo was tweeted, showing that the robot had been stripped and decapitated in Philadelphia. The head was never found. On August 3, 2015 Adam Gabbatt reported on the Guardian website about hitchBOT's destruction. Frauke Zeller, co-creator of hitchBOT, was quoted saying: "We can see on all our data that the tablet and battery and everything shut off at the same time so it must have been when they vandalised the bot." The article also states:
She said Hitchbot’s body had been found by some good samaritans who had located the roving robot through a regularly updated map on its website. "They sent us images and it’s really beyond repair. There’s not a single wire inside and all the things are broken."
hitchBOT's ordeal highlighted the issues of autonomous technology, the ethics of robot treatment, and the anthropomorphism of animate-like devices. The first hitchBOT is now a permanent exhibit at the Canada Science and Technology Museum.
Smith and Zeller recreated their invention as hitchBOT 2.0 in 2019. The robot was sent to Paris, France, where it is touring about and appearing in a play, Killing Robots, written by Linda Blanchet.
Zeller has also created an art critic robot called kulturBOT.
"hitchBOT Making my way across Canada...one ride at a time" (PDF). hitchbot.me (Media kit). Summer 2014. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-09.
I was first conceived in 2013 by Dr. David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Dr. Frauke Zeller from the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University.
- Madrigal, Alexis C. (12 June 2014). "Meet the Cute, Wellies-Wearing, Wikipedia-Reading Robot That's Going to Hitchhike Across Canada". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-02-20.
- "HitchBOT the hitchhiking robot". CBC News: The National. 28 July 2014. Retrieved 2019-04-01 – via YouTube.
- Dave, Paresh (3 August 2015). "Hitchhiking robot that made it across Canada maimed on U.S. road trip". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2015-08-04.
- Wakefield, Jane (17 March 2019). "Can you murder a robot?". BBC News. Retrieved 2019-05-04.
- "hitchBOT Announces start date for Canadian hitchhiking journey" (PDF). hitchbot.me. 13 June 2014. Retrieved 2015-02-20.
- Posner, Michael (20 December 2013). "In our love affair with machines, will they break our hearts?". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 2015-02-20.
- "hitchBOT". hitchbot.me. Retrieved 2015-02-20.
- "HitchBOT, hitchhiking robot, settles down at Canada Science and Technology Museum". CBC News. 15 December 2015. Retrieved 2016-08-26.
- "My German Adventure". hitchbot.me. Retrieved 2015-02-20.
- "Travels in the Netherlands". hitchbot.me. Retrieved 2019-04-01.
- Courtois, Andrea [@AndreaWBZ] (1 August 2015). "EXCLUSIVE PHOTO: evidence of vandalized hitchhiking robot in #philly. #hitchBOTinUSA trip is over..." (Tweet). Retrieved 2019-03-17 – via Twitter.
- Gabbatt, Adam (3 August 2015). "hitchBOT's decapitators avoided capture by the hitchhiking android's cameras". The Guardian. Retrieved 2015-08-05.
- "It’s hitchBOT 2.0. The hitchhiking robot left for dead on a U.S. street in 2015 is back — on stage in France". Toronto Star, By May Warren, Dec. 28, 2019
- Madrigal, Alexis C. (19 May 2014). "Two Robots, Both Alike in Dignity". The Atlantic. Retrieved 2015-02-20.
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