Kids, Code, and Computer Science Magazine

hitchBot

hitchBot Official Site

This Canadian experiment used a robot to explore how people respond to robots and technology.

He was an international sensation. Kids loved him. Adults loved him. Journalists hung on his every move. Traipsing around in patterned Wellies, yellow gardening gloves, and a goofy grin, he was the most unlikely celebrity imaginable.
His name was hitchBOT, and he was a robot. A hitchhiking robot.

“This is both an artwork and a social robotics experiment,” explained the creators of hitchBOT, Frauke Zeller and David Harris Smith, in an interview with the Toronto Star. They wanted to see how people would react to this oddball creation. Would they enjoy hitchBOT’s friendly chatter and his Wikipedia-based factoids? Would they be receptive to his kooky appearance? And most of all — would the kindness of strangers be enough to get hitchBOT across Canada?

Yes. Yes it was. In July 2014, hitchBOT started his adventure in Port Credit, Ontario. Over the course of 26 days and 19 rides, he travelled all the way to Victoria, British-Columbia — over 10,000 kilometres! There were some fun detours: a wedding, a camping trip, and even a First Nation’s Pow Wow. Whimsical photos popped up on social media: hitchBOT eating batteries for breakfast, going to the toilet, riding ducks. People weren’t just helping this robot; they were having fun with him.

HitchBOT’s creators were more than a little surprised.

In general, society has mixed feelings about robots. As they become more common and more versatile, people wonder what impact robots are going to have on our society. Will robots make our lives easier — washing our dishes, mowing our lawns, helping us diagnose illnesses? Will they take away valuable jobs?

 

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