HitchBOT Talking Robot Sets Off Across USA Tonight

Do you remember hitchBOT? The talking robot made news last year when it used its disarmingly silly looks and sometimes chatty personality to successfully hitchhike across Canada. The talking robot also hitched rides across Germany and the Netherlands. HitchBOT is now preparing to set off on new adventures across the USA.

hitchBOTArmed with a bucket list of American sites it wants to see and some improved technology, hitchBOT will be placed somewhere in Salem, MA tonight. It will wait patiently on the side of the road for some kind stranger to pick it up and transport it a little closer to its ultimate destination of San Francisco, CA.

The robot is the invention of two Canadian communications professors, Dr. David Harris Smith and Dr. Frauke Zeller. It’s a simple design. HitchBOT doesn’t have any moving parts. But, according to an article in Beta Boston, the robot comes equipped with a GPS, microphones, speakers, speech recognition software, and Cleverscript coding. Like a simple chatbot, it can answer basic questions and even look up information in Wikipedia.

There’s a video in which hitchBOT talks about its plan for travel across the USA. I looked on YouTube for examples of hitchBOT really conversing with someone. Here’s a video that shows a pretty idealized version of picking up the robot and chatting with it. It seems the technology isn’t always so cooperative, though, as can be seen in this amusing video of a German journalist trying to interview hitchBOT.

In this video interview, the hitchBOT creators make it clear that their simple talking robot was never meant to wow people with fancy technology. They describe the robot as an emergent piece of cultural theater that’s meant to help us think about how we adopt and integrate technology into our social and cultural life.

It’s an interesting experiment. HitchBOT has just enough of a backstory to make it (him/her) interesting. And the fact that the robot has definite travel goals that it needs help achieving seems to awaken the neighborly instinct in people.

You can keep up with hitchBOT’s travels by checking out the tracking map on the robot’s website. We’ll never know about the conversations it has along the way, but we hope they’re good ones.

Happy Trails and Safe travels, hitchBOT!

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