TORONTO – If there was ever a cardinal rule of the road it would be don’t pick up any hitchhikers.
But what if the hitchhiker in question was a small, smiling robot with a knack for good conversation?
A hitchhiking robot dubbed “hitchBOT” is getting ready to embark on a whirlwind adventure across Canada.
The robot, created by a McMaster University professor and a team of researchers, will rely on the kindness of strangers to get from Halifax to Victoria – it’s only other goal is to make some friends along the way.
“HitchBOT is a story-telling and story-collecting robot,” creator David Smith told Global News during an interview on The Morning Show in June. “One of the most useful ways to think about it is like MARS rover, except that its here on earth exploring the cultural life of Canada.”
HitchBOT was made out of an old bucket and a couple of 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).
Technology-wise, hitchBOT has a built in Wikipedia application programming interface (API) that helps it with world knowledge, a camera that also captures audio, speech recongintion technology and 3G and Wi-Fi capabilities.
In case hitchBOT runs into any operational difficulty, the robot has instrcutions 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.
“This is an emergent piece of cultural theatre and artwork that’s meant to reframe our thinking about how we adopt and integrate technologies into our social and culture life,” Smith said.
“We are open to the kinds of things people want to talk to a bot about.”
But the conversations won’t be recorded.
The robot includes technology that allows it to take in and prossess what the driver is saying, but the team said the it is about connecting with technology – those who have interactions with hitchBOT can choose to share their experience with it online.
HitchBOT will also be tweeting its own updates, as it has the ability to post to Twitter and Instagram by itself.
Partner and professor at Ryerson University Frauke Zeller said researchers are interested in answering the question of whether we trust robots – especially as we move into an age where intelligent robots become more pervasive in everyday life.
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“We hope to instill these discussions by taking the question the other way around – can robots actually trust human beings,” said Zeller.
And it’s not just about getting from city to city for hitchBOT – those who come across the bot are encouraged to show it some Canadian love. Have a sleepover with it, bring it to a party, or have it over for dinner – anything goes, says the bot’s creator.
“Our best-case senario for this bot is that it has more rather than less rides and that it actually gets out and about to see some of Canada along its way,” said Smith.
HitchBOT will set out on its adventure in Halifax on Monday and will eventually end up in Victoria.
The only advice we have for hitchBOT is be safe, be kind and try not to get knocked over.