The Next Hitchhiker You Pick Up Might Be A Robot Named Hitchbot
This summer, a loveable, chatty little robot will be making its way across Canada. Starting in Nova Scotia, Hitchbot will be hitching rides with drivers from all across the country, ultimately hoping to end its journey in British Columbia. Along the way, it's going to be chronicling its journey, posting photos and conversations to social media.
Designed by researchers at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario; Hitchbot will stand about as tall as a six-year-old child and will have a child-sized booster seat built into its posterior. It's also only able to move one part of its body: its arm. According to Mcmaster University assistant professor David Harris Smith, the robot is designed to charm its way into vehicles as it travels from one end of the country to the other.
In order to gain the trust of its drivers, Hitchbot will be equipped with a number of sophisticated communication features, including voice recognition, and processing abilities that will allow it to engage in small talk. It'll even be able to draw on sources like Wikipedia for conversation topics, and its LED screen allows it to message humans in text and make a wide range of facial expressions. Last, but certainly not least, it'll be able to carry on a conversation with multiple subjects over the Internet.
"It'll be sort of like having an out-of-control teenager in your car, taking pictures of you and posting them to Facebook," explained Smith. If you're not comfortable with being in the public eye, he added, don't pick up the robot. Giving Hitchbot a ride means you're making yourself a part of its public story - a story which could, he continued, include a number of side-trips.
"If people want to take it home to meet the family or to a party or something, they can do that - if Hitchbot consents. It's up for side adventures along the way."
Interestingly enough, even though Hitchbot was designed and developed by researchers, it's not actually a research project. Instead, it's a collaborative art project, designed to ask a very interesting question about the relationship between robots and humans. See, a lot of the time, people question whether or not they can trust robots. They never ask if the reverse is true:
Can robots trust humans?
It'd be incredibly easy for someone to make off with the robot, even taking into account the fact that it's equipped with 3G and GPS connectivity. On top of that, what's to stop a car filled with mean-spirited brats from simply running Hichbot down? Given that it can only move one part of its body, it's not exactly capable of defending itself from vandalism. I think that's kind of the point, though - to see how long Hitchbot can last before its journey comes to an unceremonious end.
Hitchbot will primarily be powered by solar panels covering its body, which is a beer cooler bucket. It'll also be rechargeable through cigarette lighters or electrical outlets. Should its power run out while it's waiting for a ride, it's got instructions tacked on it that'll direct people to a help website and instruct them in the details of charging the bot.
The Hitchbot posted a photo on its instagram account Monday, explaining that its head is made from a cake saver which it says "will protect all of my brain parts, including LEDs, plastic bearings, motors, and a mirror." Its body, it says, is still "a work in progress."