A Hitchhiking Robot's Journey West Ends Early ... In Philadelphia
After a bunch of really nice humans helped a hitchhiking robot traverse the length of Canada and most of Germany, the robot was going to try to make it from Massachusetts all the way to California.
HitchBOT is the brainchild of two Canadian social scientists. As Frauke Zeller and David Harris Smith explained it in a piece for the Harvard Business Review, it was an experiment meant to spark a discussion "about trust, notions of safety, and about our attitude towards technology."
For his third trip, hitchBOT, a cute robot with kitsch appeal — made of a bucket, a display and noodle appendages — was dropped off at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., on July 17.
The first few days, things went smoothly: With the help of friendly humans, who gave hitchBOT a ride and also charged him, he hit up Fenway Park and Providence and New Haven and even crossed off the first item on his bucket list: "See the lights in Times Square."
I thought I was bright and flashy, but the lights in Times Square have me beat. Next stop... who knows! pic.twitter.com/EKIQk4J1lB— hitchBOT (@hitchBOT) July 26, 2015
Eventually, he made it to Philadelphia, where Jesse Wellens, of YouTube fame, showed him around town in the early morning hours of Saturday. At 3:57 a.m. ET on Saturday, Wellens tweeted that he was dropping hitchBOT off at Elfreths Ally, the oldest residential street in the U.S.
👽@edbassmaster & I just picked up a hitchhiking robot!! This night has gotten really weird. @hitchBOT pic.twitter.com/Q2ijplpAT1— Jesse (@Jessewelle) August 1, 2015
Unfortunately, that's where hitchBOT's journey ended.
On his blog, the robot wrote that his body was damaged but "my love for humans will never fade."
Lauren O'Neil, a journalist for the CBC, capped the news with a terrible picture:
Canada's hitchhiking robot lasts just two weeks in US before getting decapitated. http://t.co/802FBRUMho #smh pic.twitter.com/0bJexW3igk— Lauren O'Neil (@laurenonline) August 2, 2015
HitchBOT's family — aka the researchers — issued this statement:
"hitchBOT's trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, and New York City. Unfortunately, hitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots. We know that many of hitchBOT's fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over. For now we will focus on the question 'what can be learned from this?' and explore future adventures for robots and humans."
In an interview with the CBC back in March, Smith said he hoped hitchBOT's journey would lead to some introspection on the way society works.
Maybe, he said, it could spark discussion on some big questions like: "What kind of people are we? Are we kind? Do we live in a safe world, you know, for the most part?"
Which leaves us with one question: What does this say about the U.S.?
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