“My name is hitchBot.”
HitchBot is a hitchhiking robot who has spent the last three weeks, and 6,000 kilometers, hitching rides across Canada, completely on its own.
“From coast to coast, I am hoping to meet new friends, have interesting conversations and see new places along the way,” hitchBot says in an online video. “As you may have guessed, robots cannot get driver’s licenses yet. So I’ll be hitchhiking my entire way.”
HitchBot has a bucket body, pool noodles for arms and legs, wears rubber boots and has rubber gloves for hands, complete with the ever important hitching thumb. She was created by a group of Ontario University professors as a social experiment.
Steve Sxwithultxw picked up hitchBot three days ago, in Victoria, his hometown and its final destination city. He speaks to the fact that hitchBot has arrived safe and sound, never vandalized or kidnapped.
“It is quite surprising in today’s day and age. You know, there are still hitchhikers out there, but would a robot be able to trust humans on an isolated highway in the middle of Canada? That was a real question that needed to be answered. It’s a social experiment that these professors have put together in launching hitchBot. I think we’ve clearly found that this country, Canada, has embraced this little bucket of electronics and bolts, you know, with some minor damage, but has made it across the country safely.”
Steve says that hitchBot was huge news in Canada, so when people saw the robot on the side of a road, many knew to pick it up.
“Somebody would be curious, stop and pick her up. She would say, ‘Hi, I’m hitchBot, I’m going to Victoria. Would you like to give me a ride?’ Usually they would say, ‘Sure.’ She hops in, plug her into the cigarette lighter and they drive along. Let’s say they are going to a town in Saskatchewan. They would drop her on the highway because they had to turn off and they would just leave her on the highway.”
Just like some human hitchhikers, hitchBot was good road company.
“She asked me what I think about the creation of the universe. She asked me if I believe in God. I have a friend who was with me last night, we were doing a pub crawl with her, and he was single. She asked him if he was cheating on her. She had some very random stuff that’s come out of her. She’s able to talk about that she’s going to Victoria. She’s explaining who (her creators) are by name. So she’s very intelligent. She’ll say, ‘Would you like to start a conversation?’ And you’re like, ‘What do you want to talk about?’ She’ll bring up a subject and we’ll start blibber-blabbering.”
Steve showed hitchBot a warm welcome, taking her to meet local First Nation dignitaries, out for high tea at the Empress Hotel, and introduced her to his children.
“My daughter, she’s been having these conversations with her, just really tender moment type conversations with a robot. It was really intriguing to watch and listen to. It was kind of heartfelt. She was talking about how she’s just a little girl. ‘I’m only five and you’re not human.’ Talking about her favorite color, her favorite movie, how she was feeling. My daughter was just having a normal conversation like she was talking to another adult. It was pretty cool.”
Cool, but also a bit creepy to think that kids would easily adjust to a society that included talking robots. hitchBot’s creators are currently en route to Victoria to pick her up after a long summer of adventures.
Steve took hitchBot on a quick trip to Seattle on Tuesday. They cruised in on the Clipper, stayed for about an hour greeting locals, and then grabbed the very next boat back to Victoria.