hitchBOT aims to be first robot to hitchhike across Canada


June 17, 2014

hitchBOT will hit the road this July, looking to hitch hike across Canada

hitchBOT will hit the road this July, looking to hitch hike across Canada

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In what is hailed as a world first for robots, a Canadian robot dubbed "hitchBOT" hopes to be the first to hitchhike across Canada this July. Wearing jaunty red boots and yellow garden gloves (with one in a permanent "thumbing a ride" gesture), hitchBOT is going to try to use his good looks and power of speech to convince people to pick him up and drive him from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia.

According to his designers, hitchBOT boasts artificial intelligence (AI) and and has been endowed with speech recognition and speech processing capabilities so that he may understand and converse with those people that he may encounter on his journey. To keep them engaged in conversation, hitchBOT apparently also runs social media and Wikipedia APIs, so that he will not only be able to talk to the people that pick him up, he’ll be able to make interesting and informed small talk with them whilst tweeting and posting his "thoughts" to a wider audience.

A collaborative venture first conceived in 2013, hitchBOT is a product of the work of Dr. David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Dr. Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University. Since its inception, the team has further expanded to include other collaborators and researchers from a wide range of disciplines from both universities, including computer science, electrical engineering, communication, and mechatronics.

As a result, hitchBOT is a science project, a social experiment, and an art installation. Not only will it see the use of speech recognition, speech processing, and various forms of electronic interchange in a real-world environment, but the hitchBOT project will also gauge how human beings interact with a robot that is out in the world with them.

"We believe that through this artwork, we can learn a lot in terms of social robotics and how we approach robots in non-restricted, non-observed environments," say Smith and Zeller.

As a sibling to "kulturBOT" – a robotic art show commentator that attends exhibitions and projects captioned photographs of the galleries, attendees, and art – hitchBOT continues the theme of studying human-robot interaction. with Smith and Zeller’s research focusing on the philosophies surrounding such interactions and even the phobias people may harbor about robots.

So, if you happen to be driving down the TransCanada highway this Canadian summer and you spot what looks to be a R2-D2's poor cousin thumbing a ride, consider picking him up, plugging him into your cigarette lighter if he asks, and listening to what he has to say; you both may benefit from the interaction.

Source: hitchBot

About the Author
Colin Jeffrey Colin discovered technology at an early age, pulling apart clocks, radios, and the family TV. Despite his father's remonstrations that he never put anything back together, Colin went on to become an electronics engineer. Later he decided to get a degree in anthropology, and used that to do all manner of interesting things masquerading as work. Even later he took up sculpting, moved to the coast, and never learned to surf. All articles by Colin Jeffrey

Hopefully they added a GPS chip so they can find it again.

Ken Dawson

Ha! I'm a veteran of hitchhiking across Canada. If hitchBOT makes it past Wawa, I'll be very impressed.

Ken Tuck

People steal scrap metal all the time. This robot will be stripped for parts long before it gets to British Columbia.

Larry Hooten

Canada is probably a lot safer than the U.S., but in this day and age, if the bot is not only GPS-tracked but also visually tracked, who's to say that someone won't at some point install a vibration-triggered or radio controlled IED inside of it? Further, if this gathers enough attention and successfully completes its trek, there are lots of crazy out there that will use the idea to lure travelers to pick up and transport their innocent-looking yet dangerous bots. Call me crazy, but I also have a similar concern about the many money quests that are popping up around the U.S. It doesn't take a devious mind, just someone out for kicks, to lead people into dangerous circumstances.

If this bot isn't visually tracked, I see some potential liability if something nefarious happens.


If it ever gets placed on the roadside;

a) wind gust from a large vehicle will knock it over. b) trashed into bits from being hit. c) without advertising, ignored... d) stolen for parts after a, b, & c

Bob Flint

I give it less than a week before it is run over.

Michael Crumpton

Some college students will put it in a metal cocoon and hold it for ransom!


Anyone want to start a pool on how many tweets get emitted before he becomes salvage?

Bob Ehresman

Even in law-abiding(?) Canada, this idea will last a very short time before it gets a slug or two through it from the first gun-toting redneck unlucky and frustrated hunter looking for a road sign to perforate. "Hello1 I am hitchBOT, a friendly ro" BOOM! "ro ro ro urgh..."

The Skud

Gives drivers something to aim for ;)


I think the idea behind it is neat but I wonder if it will be shot or run over by some one thinking it is another way government has to spy on them? Perhaps there are some who might think it is a new form of a UAV (un-manned automous vehicle?)?

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