Canadian hitchhiking robot takes on the US

The ride-sharing HitchBot is also a covert attempt to assess American manners

Canadian hitchhiking robot HitchBot poses in this promotional image distributed by Ryerson University for the robot's journey from Massachusetts to California.

Canadian hitchhiking robot HitchBot poses in this promotional image distributed by Ryerson University for the robot's journey from Massachusetts to California.

You wouldn't hurt a cute little robot, eh?

A squeaky-voiced robot from Canada is throwing down the gauntlet in a politeness challenge to the US - can it hitchhike across the country and survive intact?

HitchBot will begin an epic journey across the US on Friday, thumbing rides from Massachusetts to California in what will be a test of both public manners and attitudes toward anthropomorphic machines. It will make its way from Salem to San Francisco, following successful treks across Canada and Germany and a sojourn in the Netherlands.

Like all hitchhikers, HitchBot relies upon the kindness of strangers. It's placed along a roadside, one rubber glove thumb in the air, and waits for a kindly motorist to pick it up, carry it into a vehicle and haul it down the road.

The kid-sized bot attracted significant media attention in Canada during its 6,000-kilometer journey from Halifax to Victoria last year. Left on a road by Halifax airport, it was picked up minutes later. After 19 lifts over three and a half weeks, it was on the Pacific coast in the capital of British Columbia.

HitchBot doesn't have much in terms of robotic features. It's fashioned from what seem to be odds and ends from a garage - a bucket, a child booster seat, pool noodles, a cake saver, yellow gardening gloves and yellow rubber boots.

Its head contains motors, a mirror and four LED screens that can light up in a smiley face. The electronics, as well as a camera, are run through an Android tablet, and the machine also has 3G wireless connectivity and GPS tracking so it can post its location and photos on the Internet.

Aside from solar panels on its chest, HitchBot can draw power by plugging into car cigarette lighters. It also bears written instructions on what to do when it's out of juice.

To boost its appeal, HitchBot can engage in simple conversations through Cleverscript, a software engine that can create virtual assistants based on spreadsheet data.

"I am a very talkative robot," HitchBot said in a promo video for its U.S. odyssey. "During my travels, I have been working on my human language skills."

The brainchild of communications scholars David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University, HitchBot is described as a social experiment or an art project that's meant to upend questions about whether humans can trust robots. HitchBot is all about whether robots can trust humans, especially random people encountered on the road.

It wants to visit landmarks in the US such as Times Square and Mount Rushmore before arriving at the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco.

Tim Hornyak covers Japan and emerging technologies for The IDG News Service. Follow Tim on Twitter at @robotopia.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags HitchBotrobotics

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Tim Hornyak

IDG News Service
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?