Would you give him a ride?

hitchBOT was a Canadian hitchhiking robot created by professors David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University in 2013. It has successfully hitchhiked across Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands.

In 2015, it was murdered, in an unsolved crime, while attempting to hitchhike across the United States, from Boston to San Francisco. The robot was stripped and decapitated in Philadelphia. The head has yet to be found. Some good samaritans found the body but it was beyond repair. hitchBOT’s ordeal highlighted the issues of autonomous technology, the ethics of robot treatment, and the anthropomorphism of animate-like devices. The first hitchBOT is now a permanent exhibit at the Canada Science and Technology Museum. hitchBOT 2.0 in 2019, was sent to Paris, but its tour was delayed by Covid-19.

We can see on all our data that the tablet and battery and everything shut off at the same time so it must have been when they vandalised the bot

Frauke Zeller
hitchBOT murderer on the left and the stripped body on the right

Smith and Zeller wanted to see how people interact with technology and ask the question, ‘Can robots trust human beings?’. The robot was not able to walk – it completed its “hitchhiking” journeys by “asking” to be carried by those who picked it up.

The robot was able to carry on a basic conversation and talk about facts and was designed to be a robotic traveling companion while in the vehicle of the driver who picked it up. The robot had a cylindrical body composed mainly of a plastic bucket, with two flexible “arms” and two flexible “legs” attached to the torso.

The top section of the body was transparent, containing a screen that displayed eyes and a mouth, making the robot approximately humanoid in an external appearance.

It was small and had a look the team described as “yard-sale chic”, to evoke trust and empathy, and had a child’s car seat base to be easily and safely transportable. It was powered either by solar power or by automobile cigarette lighters.

It had a GPS device and a 3G connection, which allowed researchers to track its location. It was equipped with a camera, which took photographs periodically to document its journeys.



Author: Doyle

I was born in Atlanta, moved to Alpharetta at 4, lived there for 53 years and moved to Decatur in 2016. I've worked at such places as Richway, North Fulton Medical Center, Management Science America (Computer Tech/Project Manager) and Stacy's Compounding Pharmacy (Pharmacy Tech).

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