Hitchbot

Robot to hitchhike across Canada this summer

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People travelling through Canadian cottage country this summer may come across a rather unusual hitchhiker flagging down cars. 

About the size of an average six-year-old, and thumbing with an arm made from coper wiring and a pool noodle, a robot known as HitchBOT will be relying on the kindness of strangers to make it across the country. The robot will be thumbing a lift from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax to Victoria, B.C. Its 4,480-kilomentre adventure begins on July 27, 2014. 

David Harris Smith, an associate professor at McMaster University, and Frauke Zeller, an associate professor at Ryerson University’s School of Professional Communication, conceived the the project, which has been described as “part art project and social experiment.” 

It’s meant to prompt people to discuss technology and our perception of public safety. “A lot of the discourse around robots has been, you know, will they take over, can we trust robots?” Smith told the CBC. “And this art piece very deftly reverses that whole discussion—can robots trust people?”

You can follow the 21st-century hitchiker through his blog (www.hitchbot.me) or on social media. “It’ll be sort of like having an out-of-control teenager in your car,” Harris Smith told CBC, “taking pictures of you and posting them to Facebook.”

Though small in stature, HitchBOT will have access to a breadth of knowledge through Wikipedia and will even be able to converse with drivers. The robot will also have an LED screen for sending text, and can hold multiple text conversations simultaneously.   

When the robot is picked up, it can tell drivers where it is headed and even ask people how far they are going. HitchBOT will ask drivers to leave it safely on the side of the road, ready to be picked up by the next person.

Though your parents probably warned you against the dangers of bumming a lift, HitchBOT’s creators will use GPS positioning to track the robot’s whereabouts. “It kind of depends upon empathy and social collaboration,” Harris Smith tells the Toronto Star. “That’s one of the risks we’re willing to take.”