The friendliest robot in Canada just hitchhiked across the country

HitchBot

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Robotics

A robot with a solar-panel body, an LED smile, and Wellies on its legs hitchhiked its way from Halifax to Victoria this month—relying wholly on humans to take it along. If this was a test of how humans relate to robot in their midst, this hitchBot just earned itself two thumbs up. 

“Usually, we are concerned with whether we can trust robots. This project asks: can robots trust
human beings?” said Frauke Zeller, an assistant professor at Ryerson University and one of the bot’s creators, when the project launched.

But it could demonstrate the other side of the equation too, that humans trust the bot enough to pick it up and stash it in their cars.

“Most people have never seen a robot before and all they have is what Hollywood shows them,” said Laurel Riek, who studies human-robot interaction at the University of Notre Dame. Encountering a bot in the wild, and interacting with it in a basic way could temper our expectations of what to expect from the machines.

“Real robots in the real world are not a hundred percent perfect — that’s one thing that’s useful to learn,” Riek said.

Some travelers even went looking for it, like Keith Campbell, who followed the bot through its social media posts. He told Global News that “it was a pretty strange thing to talk to.” HitchBot is programmed to speak a few sentences of English and French.

HitchBot can be charged through the lighter port in a car. It’s equipped with a 3G and GPS, and was able to transmit its location through the journey. Besides that, it doesn’t do much. But that didn’t stop people from finding something appealing about it. Just take a look at hitchBot’s Instagram feed: It picked up plenty of friends along the way.

Nidhi Subbaraman writes about science and research. Email her at nidhi.subbaraman@globe.com.
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