Without a hitch: hitchBOT arrives safely in Victoria
Hitchbot, Canada's most famous hitchhiking robot, has made its way across the country from Halifax to its final stop in Victoria, B.C., completing it's 6,000-kilometre journey in 3 weeks as it arrives in a 50-foot cedar canoe with Songhees Nation members for a traditional Coast Salish welcome at the inner harbour in Victoria, B.C., on Monday, August 18, 2014. (Chad Hipolito / THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Jesse Tahirali, CTVNews.ca
Published Monday, August 18, 2014 7:06PM EDT
With a bucket for a body, pool noodle appendages and an unrelenting smile, hitchBOT arrived in Victoria, B.C., Sunday.
The hitchhiking robot set off from Halifax on July 27 and has since racked up thousands of kilometres -- and thousands of fans -- along its cross-Canada endeavour.
hitchBOT is a participatory art piece and an examination of human-robot interaction, according to its creators Frauke Zeller and David Harris Smith. The experiment, which will officially conclude at an art gallery reception on Thursday, went better than the two could have imagined.
“We’re over-the-top happy. It’s amazing,” says Harris Smith, an assistant professor of communication studies and multimedia at McMaster University. “hitchBOT has really captivated people’s hearts and minds.”
The robot, charming in its crude simplicity, is immobile apart from one motorized arm it uses to hitch rides. It was an experiment designed to answer the question, “Can robots trust human beings?” And after three weeks of safe travel, the answer seems to be “yes” -- if those humans are Canadian, at least.
Though there were fears of hitchBOT being destroyed or kidnapped along its unaccompanied trek, Zeller says it reached the West Coast relatively unscathed. Apart from a tune-up in Toronto and a small crack in the clear plastic part of its head, no medical care has been required.
“You can compare it to the re-entry of a space shuttle,” says Zeller, a professor at Ryerson University. “It is weathered but fine, showing its experience from the trip.”
The experience shows not only on the robot itself, but across the wide array of social media hitchBOT was programmed to use. With almost 90,000 followers across Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, the tech-savvy transient documented its trip online as it met celebrity groundhog Wiarton Willie, attended a powwow in Wikwemikong and took pictures in every province. hitchBOT even crashed a wedding in B.C., says Zeller, where it reportedly danced the night away.
hitchBOT’s busy life won’t be coming to an end any time soon, its creators say. The team has plans to present hitchBOT to a conference in Silicon Valley, and have been invited to set the robot on journeys across other countries.
They say they also have to make up for missing Newfoundland on this trip.
Harris Smith and Zeller say the project was made possible thanks to their team of a dozen or so who worked on building the robot and the countless other who contributed by tracking, tweeting and picking up the traveller. With friends of all kinds across the country, Zeller says hitchBOT seems to have the power to bring people together.
“It goes beyond any kid of different age groups. Everybody seems to love it -- not just kids, but adults, senior people,” says Zeller. “It’s very unifying, in a way.”