On July 27, a brave robot named hitchBOT bid goodbye to its creators on the shoulder of a highway in Halifax, Nova Scotia. With limbs made from pool noodles, a beer-cooler body, and legs clad in Wellington rain boots, this adorable hodgepodge of a robot was ready to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. It raised its best hitchhiker’s thumb, and waited to be picked up by its first benefactor in its 6,000-kilometer road trip across Canada.
When hitchBot set off, we at Motherboard worried that the trooper might meet a tragic end (and we weren't the only ones). But fortunately, our fears were groundless. Over the weekend, hitchBOT arrived at its final destination in Victoria, BC, intact and thriving after meeting dozens of new friends across the country.
"We're elated," hitchBOT’s co-creator David Smith told the Toronto Star. "It's been really great fun and to me it seems like it [has] brought people together in a really interesting way."
Indeed, hitchBOT was immediately popular on the road. Mere minutes after the robot was dropped off near the Halifax airport, it cinched his first ride, with a couple heading to New Brunswick.
Over the course of its cross-country adventure hitchBOT chilled with the Kelowna-based band The Wild!, met the groundhog known as Wiarton Willie, and crashed a wedding, where it adorably interrupted the bride and groom's toasts to proclaim, "I like to make friends." That level of cute should really be illegal, but hitchBOT pulled it off in style.
The robot also attended a powwow at the Wikwemikong Unceded Indian Reserve in Ontario, where it was given the ceremonial Anishinaabe name Biiaabkookwe, or "Iron Woman." This whirlwind of impromptu encounters would be delightful for any traveler, but it is particularly impressive for a bundle of pool noodles with a penchant for quoting Wikipedia articles.
Moreover, the very fact that hitchBOT survived the trip at all is a success, and is definitely a relief for the little trooper’s human family. Replacement hitchBOTs had been prepared in case the original was unlucky enough to be stolen, wrecked, or harvested for parts.
Yet the robot never came across trouble, which is extra satisfying considering that hitchBOT was supposed to prove that robots can trust humans. The fact that the robot’s trusting nature was so consistently rewarded is about as uplifting as autonomous robot news can get.
But while hitchBOT has safely traversed the great Canadian expanse, its traveling days are not over. According to the robot’s Facebook page, it will be "taking a quick jaunt to Seattle" this week, before mingling with its fans at the Open Space artist centre in Victoria this Thursday, August 21.
"HitchBOT also received several invitations from art galleries and museums," co-creator Frauke Zeller told me. "It will also attend a major technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship conference in Silicon Valley in September, as an invited guest, with David [Smith] and myself."
After that, who knows? Given its thriving international fanbase, the world is truly hitchBOT's oyster.