If you happen to be driving across the U.S.-Canadian border this summer, you might spot a little robot named "hitchBOT" hitchhiking on the side of the road. Assuming there's only one hitchhiking robot out there, he'll have a beer cooler for his torso and a cake saver for his head. He'll be wearing big red wellies on his feet and rubber garden gloves on his hands, one of which will be in the permanent hitchhiker's thumb position. Did we mention his name is hitchBOT?
Created by two Canadian professors, David Smith, Assistant Professor of Communications Studies at McMaster University, and Frauke Zeller, an Assistant Professor at Toronto's Ryerson University, hitchBOT will embark on his journey starting July 27. Like any modern traveler, hitchBOT will document his travels on social media as he thumbs his way from Halifax, Nova Scotia to the other side of Canada, ending in Victoria, British Columbia.
HitchBOT may be made from some pretty budget, common household objects, but his internal software is quite sophisticated. In addition to Smith and Zeller, who have both been researching human-robot communications, a team of computer engineers and speech pathologists also contributed to designing hitchBOT. The hitchhiking bot is equipped with speech recognition AI software that will allow him to carry out full conversations with people with the help of social media and Wikipedia apps.
A built-in camera, 3G, WiFi, and GPS capabilities will help visually document and track the robot's movement. And to recharge? HitchBOT will rely on the kindness of strangers to stick him into their cigarette outlets to stay alive.
HitchBOT, who is about the size of a 6-year-old child, has practically become one with his creators, just like every sci-fi movie ever made. Like a child, their lives revolve around hitchBOT.
"We’ve been teaching hitchBOT everything. We came up with the identity of hitchBOT—so what kind of hobbies should hitchBOT have and the name and everything," Zeller told Motherboard. "And so we’ve been helping hitchBOT with everything at the moment, to tweet, to build a Facebook website. Everything we do is about hitchBOT, so of course we’re emotionally attached to it, it’s very dear to us."
And like any parent, Smith and Zeller are worried for his safety.
"It’s conceptually interesting that we’re sending a bot to hitchhike," Smith told Motherboard. "Many of the concerns that people would have if their sons or daughters or best friends were hitting the road with their thumb out are the same concerns that people are expressing about the bot."
"Usually, we are concerned whether we can trust robots ... but this project takes it the other way around and asks: can robots trust human beings?" Zeller said in a press release about hitchBOT.
Well, we certainly hope hitchBOT makes it across the country in one piece, and with many unforgettable adventures under his belt. Before hitchBOT embarks on his exciting journey, get to know the little guy.
His Favorite Footwear Is Wellington Boots
HitchBOT loves his Wellies so much that he can't decide between which pair to get, so he reached out to his fans on Wednesday to take a poll.
Our vote is the yellow pair.
His Favorite Music Is, Unsurprisingly, Electronic
His favorite song is "Mr. Roboto" by Styx, and he also likes Kraftwerk and the Blue Man Group.
He Has a Sibling
HitchBOT is not an only bot, and he has a sibling named kulturBOT, who captures and tweets artwork at galleries.
He Already Has an Impressive Following
HitchBOT has received national and international coverage, and citizens in Victoria, B.C., are already excited to welcome him to their town.
Images: hitchbot/Instagram, doomkick.com