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Although most hitchhikers are people in need of genuine assistance, passersby tend to ignore them because they are wary of giving rides to strangers. But what would they do if they came across a hitchhiking robot? Would humans be caring enough to take it to its desired destination or would they vandalize and toss the helpless machine by the wayside?
That was the answer Canadian professors, David Harris Smith and Frauke Zeller, who study the relationship between humans and technology, were seeking when they came up with the idea of building a robot that would thumb rides from random (hopefully caring) strangers all the way from Halifax,Nova Scotia, to Victoria, British Columbia, a distance of 3,700 miles (6,000 km).
Built with cheap household items that include a beer bucket for its torso, pool noodles for arms and legs, and an LED panel for the face, hitchBOT, who sported bright yellow rain boots and gloves, was not much to look at. Also, aside from a permanently raised hitchhiking arm, the robot was totally immobile and therefore completely dependent on humans when it came to getting in and out of vehicles.
However, thanks to a PC tablet, GPS tracker and camera, hitchBOT not only had the capability to tweet his thoughts and pictures to the general public as he journeyed along, but also, answer general questions and keep drivers entertained with small talk. The smart robot was even able to cite interesting facts about the areas they were passing through, thanks to a Wikipedia download. The one thing hitchBOT was unable to explain was the ideal drop off location to enable him to continue his adventure, without a hitch. For that, he referred drivers to a website that provided all the detailed instructions.
Not surprisingly, many people were skeptical about hitchBOT making it across the country. Most believed the cute robot would be vandalized by some pranksters along the way. Turns out, they were all wrong. The robot who was first picked up on July 27th, by an elderly couple on a camping trip, not only made it to his destination on August 21st, but also, had some amazing adventures to tweet about along the way.
He visited national parks, went fishing, camping and even attended a Native American pow wow (social event). One kind driver let the robot gate crash a friend's wedding, where he experienced his first dance and interrupted the bride's speech by piping in 'I like to make friends'.
And he sure made plenty. In addition to helping him get to his destination, his Canadian fans have gone all out to ensure his safety and well-being - from covering the robot with a plastic cape to help keep him dry, to ensuring that he stays healthy with a daily dose of motor oil and metal screws. In fact, the robot who is back with its creators in Port Credit, Ontario, has become so popular that there is now hitchBot inspired art, clothing and even a copybot - a robot made of cardboard and string that calls itself . . . hitchBOX!
Resources: ctvnews.ca, dailymail.co.uk, hitchbot.me, abcnews.go.com