hitchbot dirtbag robot artificial intelligence canada science technology outside
HitchBOT does not have a gender but speaks in a slightly female-sounding voice, using voice-recognition software to converse. (Ryerson University)

Meet the World’s First Hitchhiking Robot

HitchBOT ventures across Canada, adorably

hitchbot dirtbag robot artificial intelligence canada science technology outside

If you happened to be driving between Nova Scotia and British Columbia in the past three weeks, you might have seen an unusual hitchhiker thumbing it on the side of the road. That would be HitchBOT, a solar-powered robot clad in galoshes and garden gloves making its way across the country as an ambassador between humans and machinery everywhere.

Little HitchBOT started as an experiment in “human-robot interaction” by scientists at several Canadian universities. It’s made of decidedly unglamorous parts: a garbage can hat, a torso made out of a plastic beer pail, and pool-noodle arms. Its moving LED face is protected by a cake saver. In fact, when scientists released HitchBOT into the world, they were taking quite the gamble: HitchBOT can move only its hitchhiking arm and relies on humans to lift it into cars and buckle it in.

But it quickly became apparent that our AI dirtbag would easily charm its way across the 4,000 miles. HitchBOT possesses the very important hitchhiking quality of being able to make good conversation—mostly in English, with a little bit of French (this is a Canadian robot, after all). It uses voice-recognition software to share Canadian trivia, ask children what they know about the origin of the universe, and sass reporters. “I think you are just making up rubbish deliberately to confuse me,” it told a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Its eternally hitchhiking arm means HitchBOT seems to be giving every experience a cheerful thumbs-up, as seen in the many photos taken by those who helped drive it across Canada. HitchBOT’s also been tweeting, Facebooking, and Instagramming—everything from its current location to crotch shots of reporters during interviews (HitchBOT is about the height of a six-year-old). Now HitchBOT has announced a finale gathering upon its expected arrival in Victoria on Thursday. It’s looking a little worse for wear after its odyssey but seems destined to continue its life of adventure—after a rest. “I need to recharge,” HitchBOT tweeted a week before reaching its final destination. “Hitchhiking is tough.”

From Outside Magazine, April/May 2021
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Lead Photo: Ryerson University