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Meet HitchBOT: the robot hitchhiking across Canada

Nicole Goodkind
Nicole Goodkind

Robot hitchhiker sounds like the name of an old horror movie but today, it’s actually a friendly reality. Two professors at McMaster and Ryerson University have created “HitchBOT,” a robot programmed to hitchhike across Canada, and they’re putting it to the test this summer.

HitchBOT looks like “somebody has cobbled together odds and ends to make the robot, such as pool noodles, bucket, cake saver, garden gloves, Wellies, and so forth,” says one of its creators, Dr. David Harris Smith. The bot is programmed to entertain drivers with its Wikipedia-based knowledge. It also regularly tweets and Instagrams its adventures; so far it has more than 12,000 followers on Twitter and the number is only going up. The robot began its journey in Nova Scotia Sunday and its creators hope it will eventually end up in Victoria, British Columbia-- nearly 4,000 miles away.

So far, HitchBOT has been welcomed with open arms by the travelers who have encountered him. Just today, he's been picked up by a couple in Halifax, three guys in Quebec and others who have driven him all the way to the Campbellton Information Centre in New Brunswick, where as of his latest tweet, he's awaiting his next ride.

So what’s the point of this robot-adventure?

“Usually, we are concerned whether we can trust robots … but this project takes it the other way around and asks: Can robots trust human beings?” explains another creator, Dr. Frauke Zeller.

“People have different reactions towards robots and these academics are interested in how this will manifest as they see HitchBOT,” says Aaron Pressman, Yahoo Finance tech reporter.  “HitchBOT is out there by himself. Someone could maliciously mess him up but so far most people seem to be friendly and taking him for a ride.”

Does this speak to a broader theme of robotics becoming an important aspect in both our society and economy?

“I think that’s exactly what these professors are trying to figure out,” says Pressman. “Do people view this HitchBOT as a toy? Do they view him as a threat? How are they going to react with this robotic thing that they’ve been presented with on the road?”

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