An artist's rendition of Hitchbot on the road
Seeing as self-driving cars won't be a reality any time soon, robots need to find an alternate means of travel for the time being. Case in point, the HitchBOT, a tiny, rainboot-wearing robot who is looking to travel across Canada by (you guessed it) the time-honored tradition of hitchhiking. Even so, he's probably less eccentric than your average itinerant: With bright yellow Wellies strapped to his feet and a cake-saver helmet, HitchBOT has a bucket for a body and pool noodles for limbs and looks something like a child's storybook or TV show... which is kind of the point.
The brainchild of Dr. Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University and Dr. David Harris Smith of McMaster University, the HitchBOT was designed to travel some 6,000+ km from the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design to Victoria, British Columbia, by means of friendly strangers. He comes fully equipped with 3G, GPS, WiFi and solar panels, so the hitchBOT team can track and receive texts/photos highlighting the droid's progress and deliver the updates to his quickly growing circle of fans. The robot will depend on the goodwill of travelers when he runs out of juice—once the energy from the solar panels is used up, all it takes is a simple connection to a car's cigarette lighter to reboot.
The droid is pretty limited when it comes to mobility—his only moving part is his arm—but can sit thanks to a retractable tripod. A car seat is attached to his torso for easy buckling. HitchBOT can also speak English (along with a few sentences of French) and has access to Wikipedia for small talk topics. You could do worse when it comes to a road-trip buddy.
But he's more than just an entertainment device: HitchBOT will collect stories from travelers and people around the world, as well as record the journey online. The intent of the project isn't just about miles covered, it's also looking to redefine the way humans and robots interact. A release from the HitchBOT team—which is adorably styled in first person—explains more:
I hope that my hitchhiking trip will allow me to meet many interesting people, see beautiful places and learn more about humanity. I want to take my time and also meet a variety of people, so I hope those I meet will be generous and understanding. I think my trip will lead to conversations about how robots and humans can live in harmony, and I hope that humans and robots can learn to trust each other as a result of my journey.
The many parts (and style choices) of HitchBOT
It's a fascinating and altogether optimistic take on the ongoing debate about whether or not humans will accept robots as peers: "This project takes it the other way around and asks: can robots trust human beings?" says Dr. Zeller. It's a certainly bold experiment, but it's not without precedent: It's like a scaled-up version of Kacie Kenzer's winsome Tweenbot, yet another hapless automaton who relied on the kindness of passersby:
There's no set route or schedule for HitchBOT's journey, but you can follow along online, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Starting July 27, if you see a child-sized cyborg chilling on the side of the road, give him a lift—and for the love of the motherboard in the sky, record the experience and share it with us non-Canadians.