Horror movies have trained us not to trust hitchhikers. But what if that hitchhiker with his thumb sticking out were a cute little robot?
This might be a real question that drivers in Canada are faced with this summer, as a collaborative art project kicks off that will see whether a robot named hitchBot can make it across the entire country by getting a ride from strangers.
Communications studies researchers David Harris Smith, at McMaster University, and Frauke Zeller, at Ryerson University, conceived of hitchBot as an experiment. "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?" they say in a description of the project. (HitchBot is not their first creation: kulturBOT 1.0, a robotic art show reviewer that attends and tweets at exhibitions, is his sibling.)
Hopefully hitchBot’s "outgoing and charismatic" personality will help him make his case. He’ll be equipped with the ability to recognize speech and converse with his travel companions, recording their stories. With the Wikipedia database in his memory, he’ll also be excellent at trivia games to pass the time. He also likes music, such as the band Kraftwerk and the song Mr. Roboto.
The images above are just renderings, but hitchBot will look similar—built on the outside from a mashup of items you might find at a garage sale. The only part of hitchBot that can move will be the right arm to, you know, be able to hitch a ride. He’ll have some solar panels for charging, but will also ask drivers to plug him into their cigarette lighter for some juice. Inside, hitchBot has a camera and GPS, so he can record his journey, ask drivers to share their stories, and, of course, be tracked by his creators.
HitchBot’s cross country journey will start on July 27 at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design and hopefully make it all the way to the Pacific Coast, to the Open Space Gallery in Victoria, British Columbia. You can follow his progress on Twitter or Instagram, or if you see him on the road, simply give him a ride.
The researchers aren’t sure what’ll happen, or if people will be kind to hitchBot, but Smith told CTV news that they’re "cautiously optimistic."
"Simply put, I am a free-spirited robot who wants to explore Canada and meet new friends along the way," says hitchBot. Awww.