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This hitchhiking Canadian robot is looking for a lift

  • Blog Post by: Katie Humphrey
  • July 29, 2014 - 12:54 PM

We've all been told not to pick up hitchhikers. But what about a hitchhiking robot?

HitchBOT, a talking, tweeting robot with limbs made from pool noodles and bright yellow galoshes is thumbing its way across Canada this summer. The robot started its journey in Halifax, Nova Scotia, on July 27 and hopes to eventually arrive in Victoria, British Columbia. 

Researchers from Ryerson University and McMaster University built the sociable robot as a collaborative art project to explore human-robot interaction and to test artificial intelligence, speech recognition and processing technologies.

"Usually, we are concerned with whether we can trust robots. This project asks: can robots trust human beings?" said Frauke Zeller, an assistant professor in the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University.

So far, it seems to be going well. The researchers told CTV News that hitchBOT was on the road for "all of two minutes" before some campers headed for a national park in New Brunswick scooped it up for the first leg of the journey.

HitchBOT is posting updates on Twitter and Instagram throughout its travels, with a little help from the researchers.

Anyone who stops to give hitchBOT a ride will find that the robot, described as "about as tall as a six year old," is a chatty companion, yet polite enough to ask permission before snapping photos of what it can see. HitchBOT's body (made from a plastic beer pail) is wrapped in solar panels, but the robot may also ask to be plugged in to the car's cigarette lighter for charging. A plastic cake saver protects the LED lights of hitchBOT's face.

Fans can follow along with the journey on hitchBOT's website, where a map shows its location and posts from the robot show some personality. For instance: "Simply put, I am a free-spirited robot who wants to explore Canada and meet new friends along the way. I am an avid instagrammer and tweeter. On my downtime, I can appreciate a good game of trivia and would never pass up any opportunities to bake desserts."

Researchers say there's no timetable for hitchBOT's journey west. But they told CTV News that they're hoping the robot catches multiple shorter rides -- and maybe has some fun along the way.

Good luck, little robot!

© 2014 Star Tribune