Hitchhiking is the act of asking strangers for free rides from one destination to another. Humans have been hitchhiking for many years, especially during the Great Depression of the 1930s, when people migrated from the East Coast to the West Coast in search of new opportunities. It became a staple of movies, television, and more.
In the 21st century, they tried the hitchhiking experiment with robots. HitchBOT, a robot from Canada, successfully hitchhiked from Halifax on the east coast of Canada to Vancouver on the west coast last summer in 26 days. HitchBOT then had a European tour, hitchhiking in Germany and the Netherlands. HitchBOT was then sent off to explore the United States of America on July 17, starting from Salem, Massachusetts and ending in San Francisco.
Why did Americans “kill” him in Philadelphia on August 1? The motives are still unclear, the assailant is still unknown, and it also met an ironic end in the city known as the City of Brotherly Love. One of the creators, Frauke Zeller, expressed disappointment in the robot’s demise. “It was quite a setback, and we didn’t really expect it,” Zeller told CNN on Monday afternoon. “We were spoiled by the kindness of other people who had looked after HitchBOT.” The robot’s creators described HitchBOT as a social experiment to test human psychology when they interact with robots. “HitchBOT was designed as a social robot with a personality and all the classic elements of drama, so it had a quest, and that quest was fraught with obvious dangers,” said co-creator David Harris Smith.
While the social media response has been largely supportive of HitchBOT, his future is uncertain. “We want to focus on the good things, instead of putting a shadow on the whole thing,” Zeller said. The creators of HitchBOT have no intentions to file any police report, but the local tech sector has shown an interest in repairing HitchBOT and bringing him to his final destination in San Francisco.
The Hacktory, a Philadelphia-based group of design and tech makers, offered to help repair or rebuild HitchBOT. “If we had a little help to buy a tablet PC, or get one donated, and some of the other costlier components, we could probably get the bot back up and running in a week or two,” said Georgia Guthrie to NPR. A Kickstarter fund has also been started and has raised over $4,000 as of August 4. The group also mentioned that in addition to fixing or rebuilding HitchBOT, it is also cleaning up the image of the city and will donate any excess funds towards after-school programs for children in the area.
A video circling the Internet showing the “death” of HitchBOT was a hoax, and the true assailant is still at large. However, there are still plans for HitchBOT to journey across America. “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,” Smith wrote.