Canadians who are used to seeing mountains, lakes and other beautiful scenery across their country have had a surprise addition to the landscape this summer, a hitchhiking robot with a “yard sale aesthetic.”
The robot, named HitchBOT, is made of “odds and ends of what you might found around your own house,” co-creator David Harris Smith. The "odds and ends" include a bucket for a body and pool noodles for arms and legs.
Most importantly, the robot has a built-in booster seat, a very strategic part of its design.
“It’s light enough to be picked up and put in the car and it fits in the car,” Smith told ABC News.
Smith, a professor at Ontario’s McMaster University, partnered with Frauke Zeller, of Toronto's Ryerson University, to create HitchBOT as a “participatory artwork” experiment.
The robot began its summer adventure in Halifax last month and will conclude it this week in Victoria, British Columbia. It made its way across Canada purely by the kindness of strangers who picked the robot up and took it on adventures ranging from visiting their own homes to attending a rock concert and even a wedding.
“It’s interesting to see how it inspires people’s creativity,” Zeller said. “We wanted to see whether we can trust technology that’s surrounding us, especially robots and especially as they come into our daily lives, into our houses. And can robots trust human beings?”
“We designed that strategy from the very beginning so people would know what it was when they saw it on the side of the road,” Zeller said. “We’ve heard from people that it’s part of their morning routine, that they wake up and check where HitchBOT is.”
HitchBOT was also built with a GPS system, so that followers, and its creators, can track its progress online, and is also programmed with technology similar to a smartphone and speech recognition software so it can communicate with its fellow travelers and scour the Internet for facts about the regions where it travels.
Zaller says she and Smith are in touch with the person who currently has possession of HitchBOT and are assured that, after a busy day of traveling to Seattle on the ferry, HitchBOT will arrive back in Victoria in time for its welcome home reception Thursday night.
What comes next for HitchBOT, Zaller and Smith say, depends on funding, among other factors. The robot, which took a full-time team around four months to build, has been invited by other countries to hitchhike across their lands, and will attend a Silicon Valley ideas conference with its creators next month.
“We definitely plan to continue,” Zeller said.