BY: SAMANTHA TAPP
It is common practice that most people don’t pull over to pick up a hitchhiker on the side of the road to offer a ride. Hitchhiking, a practice that was once accepted, is now considered dangerous and a risk most of us are not willing to take. But, what if the stranger was a robot? Meet hitchBOT, a robot from Port Credit, Ontario, who has travelled across Canada, throughout Germany and took a vacation in the Netherlands, by just hitchhiking.
“Hello, would you like to have a conversation? I’m hitchBOT.” This is the first of many things hitchBOT can say, and is the first a willing driver would hear after pulling over to give hitchBOT a lift. Equipped with rubber gloves, rain boots, LED lights, a Tupperware cake saver for his head and a thumb sticking up – the universal hitchhiking symbol – hitchBOT began his journey on July 27, 2014, in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Dr. Frauke Zeller and David Harris Smith, the creators of hitchBOT, wanted the experiment with the hitchhiking robot to answer the question of whether people would pick up the robot, and more importantly, if they would actually help the robot since hitchBOT was completely dependent on the help of strangers.
Their experiment was successful. In 26 days, hitchBOT completed its journey to Victoria, British Columbia, hitchhiking a total of 19 rides and traveling over 10,000 kilometres. The robot received a full Canadian experience with strangers bringing hitchBOT along for everything from camping, to ferry rides, to dancing in Saskatchewan, and even bringing hitchBOT along to participate in a First Nation’s powwow.
The success of hitchBOT’s first time traveling led it to Germany in February 2015. HitchBOT took the country by storm, travelling through Cologne, Berlin and Hamburg. It checked out the Neuschwanstein Castle, Brandenburg Gate, Cologne Cathedral, participated in the carnival Rose Monday Parade, and got a kiss from a bride in Frankfurt. This adventure took hitchBOT 10 days as hitched rides in a sports car, on a bike and on a bus to his final destination in Munich.
HitchBOT’s final stop was in the Netherlands for three weeks in June 2015. After all that travel, a robot deserves a little vacation, right? That’s exactly what hitchBOT did. As his adventures continued on, hitchBOT became not only a successful experiment, but also a loveable Canadian robot that people religiously followed online. HitchBOT is all finished up with his travels and will now call the Canadian Science and Technology Museum home in November 2017.
Watch hitchBOT’s story here.