Hitchhiking robot hitchBOT finishes cross-Canada trip

18 Aug 2014

hitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot. Image via hitchBOT's Facebook page

Three weeks and 60,000km later, a robot named hitchBOT made out of household items has hitchhiked its way across Canada, having relied entirely on the kindness of strangers.

hitchBOT embarked on its journey to help researchers study human kindness and artificial intelligence on 27 July from Halifax, Nova Scotia, on Canada’s east coast. It reached Victoria, British Columbia, on the west coast, late Sunday, thanks to drivers stopping to collect the robot and give it rides across the country.

Once inside a vehicle, hitchBOT would ask the driver to plug him into the car lighter to charge him up.

Researchers had hoped hitchBOT would complete the trip by the end of the summer.

Despite the journey having taken only 21 days, it has been exhausting, even for a robot. hitchBOT has sustained a cracked LED shield protector, and its ‘speech’ is a little bit more random than it was at the start of the trip.

Still, David Harris Smith, a professor of communications at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and one of hitchBOT’s co-creators, said the team was elated to report the robot’s journey went off without any problems.

Cross-country road trip

During its travels, hitchBOT danced to the Harlem Shake in the province of Saskatchewan and partied all night at a wedding in Golden, British Columbia, The Toronto Star reported.

HitchBOT has been programmed to tweet about its location and interactions, post photos of what it saw, and enable followers to check up on it via a website.

The robot has one hitchhiking arm that can raise itself, a face made from LED lights, which shows its expressions, and the ability to speak English – hitchBOT will even apologise for being kind of weird – and can speak a couple of sentences in French.

Researchers have designed hitchBOT’s intelligence using a conversational artificial intelligence format called Cleverscript.

The robot is also equipped with 3G and GPS capabilities.

Drivers could easily spot hitchBOT, since it is wearing the latest in ‘hardware-store chic’: a hat made out of a rubbish bin lid and wellies on its feet. A plastic beer bucket, pool noodles, and a plastic cake saver have also been used to build the robot, which is enveloped in solar panels to help it conserve energy.

hitchBOT will now be reunited with its research team in British Columbia.

Tina Costanza was a journalist and sub-editor at Silicon Republic