Who killed HitchBOT? Search for robot murderer continues

4 Aug 2015

HitchBOT with the HitchBOT family. Image via HitchBOT team

If you have any heart, you would have been saddened to hear the news that HitchBOT — the hitchhiking robot — was the victim of ‘robocide’, with CCTV footage appearing to show the killer.

HitchBOT first garnered attention at the end of last year when the friendliest-looking robot you’re ever likely to see began a hitchhiking quest across Canada as part of a social experiment to judge humans’ interactions with robots.

A year later, it appears that, in the US at least, robots are feared or at least considered objects on which to inflict violence.

Some have raised concerns that the attack in Philadelphia demonstrates humans’ fears of robots taking over the world. However, it’s equally arguable that the sight of something peculiar brings out the vandal in some.

Regardless, all that was left of HitchBOT following the attack was a pile of broken limbs, which are now being put back together by a team of Philadelphia engineers and robot enthusiasts known as the Hacktory.

All my ducks have lined up in a row and I am having a great time in Boston. #hitchBOTinUSA

A photo posted by @hitchbot on

Hopes were raised that the culprit might be found when one Twitter user claimed to have video proof showing the destruction of HitchBOT.

The only problem with this is that news organisations have apparently failed in doing any research whatsoever given that the video was posted by YouTuber Jesse Wellens, who makes prank videos.

Local reaction has not been terribly positive regarding ‘the city of brotherly love’ with Georgia Guthrie of Hacktory saying: “Among people who’ve spent time in Philly, it’s mixed between resignation, like ‘Philly’s just a bad place, here’s more proof,’ and people who are like, ‘No way, this isn’t Philly, we gotta do something’!”

While the Hacktory has offered to fix and even build a new HitchBOT, the original team that created it has issued a statement saying it is not looking to find the culprit but, rather, intend to learn from the experience.

With that, HitchBOT’s long journey must now come to an end. The team said: “We know that many of HitchBOT’s fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over. For now we will focus on the question, ‘what can be learned from this?’, and explore future adventures for robots and humans.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic