This summer, hitchBOT is making its way across America -- with an entire vacation itinerary in mind.
A joint project between researchers at McMaster University and Ryerson University, hitchBOT was initially designed as a kind of sociology experiment, to see whether a robot could trust humans enough to hitchhike solo across the country.
It could, and did, although snarkier observers noted that surely such an adventure was only possible in Canada — generally considered the planet’s nicest nation-state.
The idea this time around is to cut hitchBOT loose on the highways of America, along with launching a coordinated social media campaign. The hitchBOT team hopes that as word gets out via Twitter and Facebook, travelers will pick up the robot for part of its journey, then pass it along to others or just leave it on the side of the road with its rubberized thumb extended.
The child-sized robot is designed to look friendly and low-tech, with a body made from yard-sale castoffs -- a bucket, rubber boots, even a cake pan lid. But it also carries some high-tech onboard equipment, including a camera, a GPS unit, and a speech software system for carrying on limited conversations.
This year’s hitchBOT model, slightly upgraded, departed last week from the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass. It’s final destination is the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco. Along the way, the bot hopes to make stops at several famous American tourist spots, including Times Square, Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon.
Assuming all goes well, hitchBOT will be posting its own updates -- including photos and videos -- on the hitchBOT website and various social media platforms. So if you see a hitchhiking robot this summer, be nice, OK?