This summer, if you happen to be driving across Canada or the U.S., you may bump into a cheerful droid that goes by the name of ‘hitchBOT’. The robot, with its fashionable red boots and yellow garden gloves, plans to become the first robot to hitchhike its way across the country.

Using its charm and good looks, hitchBOT is hoping to convince people to drive him from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Victoria, British Columbia.

HitchBOTHitchBOT route map

The droid has artificial intelligence (AI) systems that allow it to recognise speech and converse with people it finds on its journey.
One of its arms is permanently fixed in a hitchhike position, and the droid could also become a social media star as it will tweet its thoughts to the general public during his journey.
Equipped with GPS, 3G wireless connectivity, a camera, and a built-in child booster seat, the droid will also be able to monitor its progress across Canada.

HitchBOT2

HitchBOT is the brainchild of Dr David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Dr Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University both in Ontario.

“A lot of discourse around robots has been, you know, will they take over, can we trust robots?” said Smith. “And this art piece very deftly reverses that whole discussion – can robots trust people?” But Hitchbot can’t really move, so he won’t have much of a choice about whom to trust and whom not to. All he can do is accept rides and post his experiences on social media, through his virtual self. “Basically, the whole nation is watching via social media,” said Zeller.
‘We expect hitchBOT to be charming and trustworthy enough in its conversation to secure rides through Canada.’

HitchBOT1

On July 27, hitchBOT – who stands about the height of an average 6-year-old – will be let loose on the TransCanada highway. Throughout the coast-to-coast journey HitchBOT will be completely by himself. He is expected to find rides by signalling with the only movable part of its tiny body – his arm. He can talk too; researchers are expecting him to be able to charm his way into getting the rides that he needs. Along the way, he will even share all his adventures via social media.“Hitchbot can ask people if they have a story they would like to share with others and this would be posted as video to Hitchbot.me. We will moderate posts to avoid inappropriate content.”

“It’ll sort of be like having an out-of-control teenager in your car, taking pictures of you and posting them on Facebook,” said David Harris Smith, the brains behind the project.

“We believe that through this artwork, we can learn a lot also in terms of social robotics, how we approach robots (in the wild, that is, in non-restricted, non-observed environments), and whether we interact with them and if yes, how,” said Smith. “If people want to take it home to meet the family or to a party or something, they can do that – if Hitchbot consents. It’s up for adventures along the way.”

It is not the first Art hitchhiking trip we have come across. In 2010 Dutch artist Tjerk Ridder and journalist Peter Bijl engaged in the Caravan Hitchhiking Project in which they hitchhiked from Utrecht to Istanbul – with a caravan, but without a car!

Like a caravan without a car lacks complete mobility, also HitchBOT is immobile without the help of strangers. But what he lacks in terms of mobility, Hitchbot makes up through superior communication skills. His features are aimed at gaining the trust of humans – like voice recognition and processing abilities that will enable him to make small talk. He will also be able to refer to Wikipedia for conversation topics, and his LED screen can message humans using text, while making facial expression as well. At the same time, Hitchbot is capable of simultaneously carrying out multiple text conversations with several people over the internet.

HitchBOT3

As well as thumbing down a ride, the bot will also ask that people plug it into the cigarette lighters in their cars to charge its battery.

‘I’ll need to consider what to pack and where to go to recharge after a long day,’ the robot writes on his website.‘ And of course, I’ll also need to consider how to interact with locals — after all, it’s not every day that people get to interact with a handsome robot like myself.’

“Simply put, I am a free-spirited robot who wants to explore Canada and meet new friends along the way,” Hitchbot declares on his website.

“In the event that Hitchbot is roadside overnight it will entertain itself by tweeting and taking photos until dawn or the next ride,” Smith clarified. “Hitchbot provides speech and signed instructions for safe placement on the gravel shoulder, or if no safe place can be found to place Hitchbot it will suggest that drivers leave it at a roadside coffee shop.”

Surprisingly, Hitchbot is made from low-tech, everyday materials – he has a beer cooler bucket for a torso and a cake saver for a head. The cake saver is meant to protect all of his artificial brain parts, including LEDs, plastic bearings, motors and a mirror.

If you’re interested in following this robot’s kickass hitchhiking journey have a look on the official website, Twitter, or Instagram.

 

Sources: hitchbot.me, dailymail.co.uk