Thumbs out for robot hitchhiking across Canada
The anthropomorphic robot named hitchBOT sits on the shoulder of Highway 102 to begin its 6000 kilometer cross country journey outside of Halifax, Nova Scotia, July 27, 2014. REUTERS/Paul Darrow
Everyone knows you're not supposed to pick up hitchhikers.
But can those thumbing a ride trust drivers who stop to help out?
That's one question two Ontario researchers are putting to the test with a social media-savvy robot that's on a 6,000-km hitchhiking trek across Canada.
Called hitchBot, the machine bummed its first ride Sunday as it set out on its marathon trip between Halifax and Victoria, B.C. A couple bound for a national park were the first to pick up the child-sized traveller.
With a face and computer brain protected by a see-through cake saver, a solar panel-covered torso made from a beer pail and arms and legs from pool noodles, Hitchbot is a roadside standout.
Unlike most hitchikers, however, the robot is far from alone.
It not only speaks, using voice-recognition technology, but is chronicling its journey on social media -- it already has thousands of followers on its @hitchbot account -- using an onboard GPS device.
The brainchild of researchers David Harris Smith of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University in Toronto, Hitchbot was created as a "collaborative art project."
"We send robots off to do dangerous things -- explore Mars, visit undersea locations or make minefields safe," Smith told the Halifax Chronicle-Herald. "So the idea of sending a robot off to hitchhike, it stimulates the same questions people ask if they were sending their kids out to hitchhike."
The robot, with blue appendages and yellow rubber-gloved hands, is equipped with a hitchhiking thumb, sturdy boots, camera and the ability to speak with people. It also has a little lean-to chair.
"As you may have guessed robots can not get driver's licences yet, so I'll be hitchhiking my entire way," hitchBOT says on its site. "I have been planning my trip with the help of my big family of researchers in Toronto."
Entirely dependent on strangers to get to its destination across Canada, hitchBot is also testing a provocative question -- whether robots can trust humans.
"It's a little bit of fun, but actually there's some serious ideas behind it, too," Zeller told the Halifax newspaper. "As (robots) become more and more pervasive in our daily lives, we need to know more about our attitudes and our relationships (with them)."
You can follow the robot's journey on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.