TORONTO – When Keith Campbell set out to find hitchBOT the hitchhiking robot, he had no idea what travelling with a talking robot would be like.
“It was a pretty strange thing to talk to,” Campbell told Global News.
Campbell, who had already started his own road trip with friends Jean-Pierre Brien and Kyle Sauvé, tracked the robot through social media to Kouchibouguac National Park on the east coast of New Brunswick.
“We were driving to Quebec and knew that hitchBOT was doing the same thing we were, so we decided to pick it up,” he said.
HitchBOT set out on its journey across the country this weekend, travelling from Halifax, Nova Scotia to the border of New Brunswick.
Created by a McMaster University professor and a team of researchers, the robot 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).
The robot – which is about the size of a six-year-old – comes with a car-seat-like contraption attached to it.
After spending four hours with hitchBOT, the best way Campbell says he can describe the experience is: strange, but interesting.
According to Campbell, the robot is not the best communicator. Though it has built-in speech technology, the robot often jumped in with random thoughts throughout the car ride – often talking over the three travellers.
“It will bring a topic up, but it doesn’t seem like it has much memory,” said Campbell.
“It talked about the weather – and it knew that it rained. It also liked to talk about religion; it asked if we thought there was a god, which was weird.”
But Campbell, Brien and Sauvé wanted to make sure that hitchBOT had a good time with them. Once they reached Miramichi, N.B., they strapped the robot into a shopping cart and took him on a shopping spree in the local Wal-Mart.
“More than half of people gave us strange looks – but some people knew who he was and asked to take pictures with it,” Campbell said.
They even bought hitchBOT a stuffed dog toy after the robot had told him it wanted a dog, but was concerned it couldn’t take care of a real one on its own.
Once in Campbellton, N.B., they set up hitchBOT with some “lunch” – consisting of some screws and motor oil – and left him to be picked up by the next group.
“It’s a really interesting and imaginative idea. I just wanted to see what it was like to interact with it,” said Campbell.
And though hitchBOT may not have been the best at conversation, the robot helped shaped unique experiences for the trio’s road trip.
“We chatted with just about everyone we met,” they said. “Our robot companion ended up bringing us much closer to humans.”
The main idea behind the robot is to see how humans interact with technology, according to creator David Smith.
“HitchBOT is a story-telling and story-collecting robot,” 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 it’s here on earth exploring the cultural life of Canada.”
Campbell said he has faith that hitchBOT will successfully make his journey across the country to Victoria, B.C., though said he wouldn’t doubt it if the robot took a whirlwind route to get there.
HitchBOT has not yet tweeted about his latest location.