Meet the robot looking to hitchhike across the United States

This is HitchBot, a hitchhiking robot developed in Port Credit, Ontario, Canada. Having spent the last year traveling around Canada and Germany, the droid is now taking on its biggest trip of all: A journey across the United States of America, from Massachusetts to California.

HitchBot was invented by Frauke Zeller, assistant professor in professional communication at Ryerson University, Toronto, and David Harris Smith, assistant professor in communication studies at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. The pair have described HitchBot as “an art project in the wild” — the aim is to test people’s reaction to technology.

And people are going to need to react if HitchBot is going to get anywhere. It features a camera, a GPS unit and limited voice conversational capabilities, but to actually travel around it’s relying on the kindness of strangers — passers-by have to spot HitchBot, offer it a lift, and then leave it somewhere by the road to get picked up again by the next driver in need of some robotic company.

The robot has got quite a list of places it’s eager to tick off before it arrives at its ultimate destination, the Exploratorium museum in San Francisco. It wants to see Times Square in New York, Millennium Park in Illinois, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona. It sounds a hugely ambitious project, but HitchBot has already safely traveled thousands of miles, so there’s no reason why it can’t do so again.

Apart from the occasional hour or two of recharging, HitchBot requires very little in the way of maintenance, and it’s waterproof too. The robot was constructed out of numerous low-tech items, including a beer cooler bucket, pool noodles and an acrylic cake-saver for the head. The idea is to study how humans interact with technology and robots in particular.

“We want to see what people do with this kind of technology when we leave it up to them,” Frauke Zeller told CBC News. “It invites people to participate.”

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