HitchBOT could resume hitchhiking adventure in 2016

HitchBOT's California dreams have been dashed for 2015, but there is a possibility the robot will have its thumb out again at the side of the road next year.

Roaming robot's parts are being returned to Canada, and it could hit the road again next year

Co-creator mulls hitchBOT rebuild

7 years ago
Duration 4:49
It's possible that the hitchhiking robot will have its thumb out again at the side of the road next year, says McMaster University researcher David Harris Smith

HitchBOT's California dreams have been dashed for 2015, but there is a possibility the robot will have its thumb out again at the side of the road next year.

The Canadian-made hitchhiking robot's creators released a statement Wednesday saying that hitchBOT's 2015 "summer adventure is over," and that they are considering rebuilding for a 2016 journey or introducing it to schools and allowing children to determine its travels.

HitchBOT's journey was cut short in Philadelphia over the weekend when it was vandalized, two weeks into its adventure across the United States after successful trips across Canada and into Europe.

"One of the options is to go back to the city of Philadelphia with a rebuilt hitchBOT and … set it out on the street again and give Philly another chance that way," said David Harris Smith, hitchBOT co-creator and assistant professor at McMaster University.

Smith said the other option was to "hand it off to school children and give them a chance to demonstrate leadership and creativity, and ask them to see if they can devise a plan to get hitchBOT through its bucket list items all the way out to San Francisco."

The "art, science and technology mashup" went offline on Aug. 1 while waiting for a ride in Philadelphia. HitchBOT could converse with people and communicate its location and local weather, Smith said.

In a press release issued Wednesday, hitchBOT's creators said the body of the robot has been found by some its fans and that the parts are currently "being sent back to its family in Canada."
HitchBOT, seen here during happier times, completed a 6,000-kilometre trip across Canada last summer. Its attempt to cross the U.S. ended badly in Philadelphia, where it was destroyed by unknown assailants. (Paul Darrow/Reuters )

Smith said that to date, the hitchBOT team has no information on who vandalized the robot, and called the destructive interaction in Philadelphia "an outlier" from a research perspective. 

"As researchers, we wanted to know, 'Can robots trust humans?' and knew there would always be the possibility that hitchBOT would be damaged or stolen," Smith said. "Even though it did end badly for hitchBOT, we've learned a lot about human empathy and trust — everything we've learned will be borne out in the resulting research and used in future planning for hitchBOT's adventures." 

"We are grateful for the responses we've received from friends and fans around the world, all of which have been overwhelmingly supportive and kind," said Frauke Zeller, co-creator and assistant professor at Ryerson University. "HitchBOT always relied on the kindness of strangers and it did receive an astounding amount of help and support."

A Kickstarter campaign that had raised more than $4,000 to replace hitchBOT, which is estimated to cost around $1,000, has since been cancelled.

Smith said that the hitchBOT team was "devastated" about the loss.

"Although hitchBOT is not materially an expensive robot, these kind of very modest components took many many hours of programming and circuit design, etc. And then add to that the social media aspects, so all of this has been very labour intensive," Smith said.

Zeller and Smith said they are "saddened by the loss of hitchBOT," but "they do need to return to their human lives."

The pair have no plans to press charges or find the persons who destroyed the robot.

A pair of YouTube pranksters admitted to creating a fake video that appeared to show one of their characters beating the child-sized robot. Jesse Wellens of PrankvsPrank and his friend Ed Bassmaster released a video about how they faked the video, but have denied that they destroyed the robot.


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