This summer, if your family is road-tripping across the United States, you might have a non-human guest. HitchBOT, a friendly robot created by a Canadian research team, began its cross-continental voyage Friday, starting at a museum in Salem, Massachusetts. The robot will be traveling across the United States with only the help of strangers.
"We don't really know what's going to happen," said co-creators Frauke Zeller from Ryerson University in Toronto, and David Harris Smith from McMaster University in Ontario. The team created hitchBOT in 2013, according to the robot’s first-person biography.
The selfie-loving bot can converse with the humans it meets – mostly in English (although it's practicing some rudimentary French), tweet about its location and interactions, and post photos to its Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts. It’s even capable of expression, showing a range of emotions on a face full of LED lights.
While traveling across the United States, the “proud robot” is trying to cross items off a bucket list. From tanning at Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, to being “the fifth portrait” at Mount Rushmore alongside former American Presidents George Washington,Thomas Jefferson, Theodore Roosevelt, and Abraham Lincoln, the bot has an ambitious travel itinerary.
But this unusual adventurer is no rookie rambler. HitchBOT has already traveled successfully across both Europe and Canada. The cross-Canada trip only took the horseback riding enthusiast 26 days. And in Europe, the robot has toured with a rock band for a week, paddled in the canals of Amsterdam, visited scenic castles, and visited the Brandenburg Gate.
The diminutive robot with a “hardware-store chic” fashion sense has nearly 35 thousand followers on Twitter who can see the adventures the bot embarks on, as well as the people it meets. HitchBOT takes a photo every 20 minutes, but it only posts them if the humans in the pictures agree.
While the robot does include a GPS tracker enabling the research team to know where their project is, "we want to be very careful to avoid surveillance technologies with this; that's not what we're trying to do here," said Mr. Smith.
“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 has said, “I hope that my hitchhiking trip will allow me to meet many interesting people, see beautiful places, and learn more about humanity.”
According to the project’s Twitter account, the robot has already been picked up by a family and “everything is hunky-dory!”
If you spot the the robot on the side of the road, and let it join your family vacation, be sure to plug it into the car charger so it can power up. HitchBOT has a long journey ahead.
You can follow hitchBot's adventures on Twitter: @hitchBOT.