If you’re anything like me, then your first question when reading the headline of this story was, “what the heck is a HitchBOT?”
Then you journeyed off into a string of imaginings, either coming to the conclusion that it must be pretty darn cool, that technology becomes more and more frightening by the day, or both. It is this exact train of thought that sparked HitchBOT’s purpose, and your answers lie within the fascinating minds of Canadian scientists Frauke Zeller and David Harris, who created the robot to prove a point about people.
It’s a hitchhiking robot, meant to incite conversation about “about trust, notions of safety, and about [their] attitude towards technology.”
It’s pretty cute, too. It travels around in what looks like rain boots, with an infectious LED smile and HitchBOT has certainly captured the hearts of many across the world. Just check its Twitter page, and you’ll see it has acquired over 50,000 followers, while us mere mortals are struggling to maintain 500.
HitchBOT can speak to a certain degree, take pictures, and also comes equipped with GPS capabilities, but the most important thing to note is that it cannot move, and purposefully so. Its travels rely solely on the kindness of humans and whether or not we want to give a robot a ride. It is an incredibly intriguing social experiment, but it also feels rather absurd, no? It almost feels as though I am writing some sort of Star Wars spin-off starring R2D2.
In any case, the people of Canada and some parts of Europe received HitchBOT very well as you can see in the video above, but in only two weeks in the United States the robot was vandalized in the city of brotherly love. I guess, the notion of open arms only applies to humans because HitchBot was found decapitated in Philly this past Friday. Prior to his destruction, it enjoyed trips to Times Square and even got to check out the Green Monster at Fenway Park during a Red Sox game. Unfortunately for those who supported HitchBOT, its trip came to a short and sudden end.
The researchers in charge of this project issued a statement to their website saying:
“Sometimes bad things happen to good robots. We know that many of hitchBOT’s fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over. For now we will focus on the question “what can be learned from this?” and explore future adventures for robots and humans.”
Again, this is unbelievably absurd and now I am replaying scenes from the film I, Robot in my mind, but at the same time I do wonder what will come of this. Regarding technological advancements, there is much distrust among many Americans, but who can blame them? Where technology can be so advantageous, it can also be frightening in many aspects. This particular experiment seems rather harmless, and many people certainly got a kick out of their hitchhiking friend, but it serves as a stepping stone for one question: Will humans and robots someday live amicably together?