Remember When A Robot Hitchhiked Across Canada?

Science & Tech / Machines

Remember When A Robot Hitchhiked Across Canada?

By: Chris O'Shea

Perhaps humans and robots can get along after all. A robot — named Hitchbot — successfully hitched its way across Canada. All by itself. No humans were around to make sure the other humans didn't break Hitchy or steal it. The little guy — made of a beer cooler body, noodle arms and rubber boots — traveled almost 3,000 miles without encountering any problems. Of course this all happened in Canada, but still! It gives us hope.

Hitch is a kind of social research project from two Canadian professors. Frauke Zeller, one of the creators of Hitch, said their reason for making the robot was to see how much humans and robots could depend on one another. "We want to take the question that we usually ask — which is, 'Can we trust robots?' — flip it around and ask, 'Really, can robots trust human beings?'" Zeller, told Canada's Times Colonist. "Our society depends more and more on robots and we need to know more about our relationship to that kind of technology."

"Hitchbot really sits right in the middle of those interesting discussions about what are our future relationships with robots and what kind of cultural mood are we engaged in currently in terms of our sense of adventure and our wariness or not of strangers," said David Smith, who helped create Hitchbot with Zeller.

It helped that Hitch could talk, via pre-programmed questions (like "Can you please charge my battery using the car's cigarette lighter?") and social cues. It also had an Instagram and Twitter account. Not only that, but Hitch was pretty cute looking.  "It has some anthropomorphic features, albeit not many," Zeller told The Atlantic. "The physical form looks like somebody has cobbled together odds and ends to make the robot, such as pool noodles, bucket, cake saver, garden gloves, Wellies, etc." In other words, this is not the Terminator. Hitch just wanted to hitch a ride, not enslave humanity.

Hitch's remarkable journey began within five minutes of being left on a highway. From there, his adventures were quite unique. "Over the course of its cross-country adventure Hitchbot chilled with the Kelowna-based band The Wild!, met the groundhog known as Wiarton Willie, and crashed a wedding, where it adorably interrupted the bride and groom's toasts to proclaim, "I like to make friends," reports Vice. "The robot also attended a powwow at the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve in Ontario, where it was given the ceremonial Anishinaabe name Biiaabkookwe, or 'Iron Woman'."

Needless to say, Zeller and Smith were "elated" that Hitchbot completed its journey. You have to admit, it's pretty amazing. It would never work here though. If they tried this in the United States, how long do you think it would be before someone stole Hitch's boots? A day?

[Image via screengrab Instagram / Hitchbot]

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