Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Techy Tuesday - HitchBot the Robot Beheaded in Philadelphia

HitchBot?  Despite the "bot" in its name, it's hard to describe HitchBot as a robot.  Hitchbot is an experiment conceived of by a couple of researchers in Canada: David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University.  The point of the experiment apparently was to see how people would react to and interact with a robot hitchhiking across the world, part of researching how people and robots could interact.  The concept was that they'd prop up HitchBot somewhere with an idea of where it was supposed to go.  The robot depended on human kindness to be picked up by a driver, placed in their car, driven to the next stop closer, then be put back out on the road  for the next leg of its adventure.

Hitchbot successfully traveled across Canada then to Germany and the Netherlands, but when the child-sized robot was taken to Boston to cross back across America, it didn't make it beyond two weeks in the US and didn't get past Philadelphia, where the little robot was vandalized for parts (anything valuable like copper wiring, I suppose) beheaded, had its arms cut off and was dumped on the side of a road.  Robot murder. 
Apparently all that love in the "City of Brotherly Love" doesn't extend to robots.  I guess Robot Lives Don't Matter.

This is a silly little story.  A strange little study that could only be the product of the academic world:
The robot was designed to be a talking travel companion. It could throw out random factoids.

"We want to see what people do with this kind of technology when we leave it up to them," Frauke Zeller, one of the creators and an assistant professor in professional communication at Toronto's Ryerson University, told the AP. "It's an art project in the wild — it invites people to participate."
To be honest, with the first stops being in Boston and then New York, I'm surprised it got as far as Philadelphia. 
HitchBot in happier days with its "family".  The people who run HitchBot's Twitter feed left this as its final words. 
My trip must come to an end for now, but my love for humans will never fade. Thanks friends: http://goo.gl/rRTSW2 


  1. I read a little on this. It was sad to see some idiots destroy HitchBot but the there are some maker/hacker types in Philly who have offered to lend support to repair the bot if it is possible. Hopefully they get it going again.

  2. Next one needs to have cameras to capture attackers AND a self-destruct mechanism than consists of a few pounds of explosive and lots of rusty nails. Damage it in certain ways and BOOM!

    Yeah, I'm mean like that.

  3. This is the fault of the designeers/builders. I assume they are nerds who live in a nerd world and not the real world. At 72 I have traveled this country and other contries for well over 60 years and everyone knows that there are places you just don't go and if you do go there you use caution.

    In the summer of 1967 I was driving a motorcycle from the West coast to the East coast and stopped in Columbus toget gas. I got off the highway and the exit dumped me into a bad part of town. The summer of 67 saw anti-war riots and driving through urban areas I would see columns of smoke rising from riot caused fires. So while driving in this bad area of Columbus I saw a movement on the sidewalk and saw a young teen throw a broom handle at the front wheel of my motorcycle. I involuntarily breaked slightly and watched the broom stick pass just in front of my wheel. If I had not hit the brakes the stick would have been caught in my front wheel with disasterous results. This was far from my first lesson that there are some places you just don't go but I had made a mistake. I still travel all over the country but I plan ahead. I go through large cities without exiting and know which areas to be wary of. The builders of this robot made a mistake out of ignorance. I hope they got the message but somehow I suspect they still don't know.

  4. So much for welcoming our Robot Overlords.

  5. Is a funny photo making the rounds of "HitchBot" captured like R2D2 by the Jawas.
    I laughed.

  6. Andrew - this one?

    It was kinda hard to find.

  7. That was it.
    I found it on the BookFace posted someplace.

    Reminded me of that part in Lord of War where Nicholas Cage is handcuffed next to his aircraft, and says, "you know there's just places you don't park your brand new car" or something like that and his plane is stripped to the frame by morning.