HitchBOT thumbs its way through northeastern Ontario

A travelling robot, know as HichBOT has officially made its way through northeastern Ontario as part of a cross-Canada journey.
The little hitch-hiking robot is making its way from coast-to-coast - it's in the northeast this week and got picked up by Kenneth Armstrong in the Soo.

A travelling robot, known as HichBOT, has officially made its way through northeastern Ontario as part of a cross-Canada journey.

HitchBOT, the brainchild of two professors in Port Credit, started its journey in Halifax, N.S. The goal for the robot is to hitch rides across the country to Victoria, B.C., in an experiment to see how humans and robots can live in harmony.

HitchBOT has been seen in several areas in northeastern Ontario, including a stop in Wikwemikong on Manitoulin Island and recently, Sault Ste. Marie.

That’s where the robot met Kenneth Armstrong, who picked him up to tour him in and around the city — including stops at the waterfront, Harmony Beach and Chippewa Falls.

“When the TransCanada Highway was built [it] was considered the halfway point of the TransCanada Highway,” Armstrong said.

“So I thought it was sort of symbolic … to drop it off there.”

Before the drop off, Armstrong took HitchBOT to the water and dipped one of its rubber boots into the water.

While HitchBOT can’t move on its own, it can talk to people who pick it up for a ride.

Armstrong said HitchBOT did share details about its purpose, where it was built, who built it and its primary function, which is hitch-hiking across the country.

HitchBOT is also on social media, and regularly sends out updates via Twitter.

However, Armstrong has noticed HitchBOT isn’t as chatty online since heading north of Sault Ste. Marie.

“It’s north of Sault Ste. Marie [and] there’s not a 3G signal up there,” he said.

HitchBOT eventually did start posting online again, confirming cellphone reception isn't consistent in certain parts of the region.

Facts about HitchBot


Origins: I am from Port Credit, Ontario where my guardians Drs. Frauke Zeller (Ryerson University) and David Harris Smith (McMaster University) first thought of creating me in 2013. We have a big, interdisciplinary family of researchers who built me, developed my functionality, and prepared me for this trip over the past three months: 

  • Dr. Ebrahim Bagheri (Ryerson University) is responsible for my knowledge of the world; 
  • Dr. Frank Rudzicz (University of Toronto) is responsible for my speech capabilities; 
  • Alanna Mager and Jacky Au Duong (Ryerson University) help me communicate online; 
  • Colin Gagich and Dominik Kaukinen (McMaster University) built me; 
  • Lily Beaul (McMaster University) and Diego Santos (University of Toronto) helped shape my conversational abilities. 

Size and shape: I’m heavy enough to withstand the wind from cars that pass me but light  enough that an adult can lift me into a car. I’m about as tall as a six year old; however, I cannot move on my own (except for my hitchhiking arm), so I’ll need help from humans in order to get around. I am able to stand, making me highly visible to drivers, thanks to my retractable tripod. I also have a handy car seat attached to my torso so that my travel companions can safely strap 
me in to their cars using seatbelts.

Abilities: I can converse with the people I meet, tweet about my location and interactions, and  post photos about the things that I see. I’ll ask permission to take photos and these will be sent to my family to post via my social networks. My fans will be able to follow where I am via my website, since I will have 3G and GPS capabilities. I have a face made from LED lights, which will show my expressions. To conserve energy, my body is wrapped in solar panels and my 
travel buddies will be able to plug me in to their car lighters in order to charge me up. For now, I can speak English and a couple of sentences in French. My family has designed my intelligence using a conversational AI format called Cleverscript.

Interests and Personality: My fashion sense could be described as “hardware-store chic”  since I wear a garbage can hat, my torso is made of a plastic beer pail, my arms are made of pool noodles, and my head and brain are protected by a plastic cake saver. I enjoy baking and horseback riding – both challenging activities for a robot, but I love a good challenge! My favourite movie is Wall-E and my favourite song is Mr. Roboto, of course. I’m a proud robot – I like 
robot stuff. 

Intentions and aspirations: I hope that my hitchhiking trip will allow me to meet many  interesting people, see beautiful places, and learn more about humanity. I want to take my time and also meet a variety of people, so I hope those I meet will be generous and understanding. I think my trip will lead to conversations about how robots and humans can live in harmony, and I hope that humans and robots can learn to trust each other as a result of my journey. 

My journey: I am excited and a bit nervous about whether people will pick me up or if they will be nice to me along the way. I don’t have a specific route and I’m not sure how long it will take but I’m up for the adventure. I hope my fellow Canadians will help me with my journey.