HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- I first heard about hitchBOT shortly after it left Halifax, Nova Scotia in July as it began a hitchhiking trip across Canada.
The robot, created by a McMaster University professor and a team of researchers, is attempting to travel from the Atlantic to the Pacific relying on, to quote Blanche Dubois, “the kindness of strangers.” According to his bio – it’s only other goal is to make some friends along the way.
Its creators, David Smith (McMaster University) and Frauke Zeller (Ryerson University), are two Canadian professors who dreamed of a robot that would hitchhike across Canada.
“HitchBOT is a story-telling and story-collecting robot,” Zeller said, “Think about it like the MARS rover, except that it’s here on earth exploring the cultural life of Canada.”
HitchBOT was made out of an old bucket and a couple of foam pool noodles. Its most recent update was a pair of rubber boots that will help it stand while it waits for its next ride (and help keep it dry once it reaches the rainy west coast).
As far as the technology that created hitchBOT it was built with a Wikipedia application programming interface (API) that helps it with world knowledge, a camera that also captures audio, speech recognition technology and 3G and Wi-Fi capabilities.
In case hitchBOT runs into any operational difficulty, the robot has instructions on its side explaining what its mission is and how to strap it safely into a car.
The robot – which is about the size of a six-year-old – comes with a car-seat-like contraption attached to it. As Smith explains, “safety comes first.”
Those who pick hitchBOT up can plug the robot into the cigarette lighter in their car and it will start talking to them while it recharges its battery.
It has no means of independent locomotion, so it's wholly dependent on humans for travel. It does, however, have basic machine vision and a microphone, so it can detect motion and speech. It can also speak, thanks to Frank Rudzicz of the University of Toronto. "hitchBOT will be able to carry on multiple conversations, simultaneously," Zeller and Herris said. "Some face-to-face, and others via social media."
You can follow hitchBot's journey on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.