Attention all Canadians: If you spot an adorable smiling robot on the side of the road, PLEASE put it in your car and have a conversation with it. Seriously, you should do it. If not for the sake of saying you made a robot friend, then do it for science.
The robot, aptly named hitchBOT, is the brainchild of David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University. They came up with the concept in 2013 as a way of learning more about how humans and robots could interact with one another.
hitchBOT’s journey began in Halifax, Nova Scotia on July 27. It will be traveling a total of 6,000 km to Victoria, British Columbia, though it isn’t entirely clear how long the journey will take. The route taken is totally at the discretion of the driver.
hitchBOT doesn’t look as fashionable as robots depicted in the movies. It has pool noodle arms and legs, rubber glove hands, and rain boots for feet. However, what it loses in style points it makes up in personality and its winning LED display smile. When hitchBOT is able to secure a ride westbound, it pleasantly talks with the driver about trivia, how it was created, and is also able to answer questions about the history of its journey. It has access to the Wikipedia API in order to have a more fruitful conversation about a variety of topics.
The robot’s power source comes from solar panels around the body that soak up the rays while it waits for its next ride, and there is a power adapter for the car to keep hitchBOT going from one place to the next.
Though there are numerous stereotypes about Canadians being incredibly polite, there is obviously the concern that someone will go against the spirit of the program and harm the robot. As it turns out, trusting strangers to care for hitchBOT properly is a big part of this experiment.
“Usually, we are concerned with whether we can trust robots. This project asks: can robots trust human beings?” Zeller said in a press release.
If someone did try to harm hitchBOT or if there are unforeseen events during the journey, the robot can be recovered with the integrated GPS and 3G connection. This internet connection also allows hitchBOT to send reports from the road via Twitter, Facebook, and a website with a map logging the journey so far.
“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,” hitchBOT stated in a press release. “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.”
Check out hitchBOT in action: