hitchBOT, a robot exploring the world

Remember hitchBOT, the cute hitchhiking robot from Port Credit (Canada), that became an international media star?

In 2014, hitchBOT was sent out on a hitchhiking journey across Canada, patched together with pool noodles and Wellington rubber boots. Its creators, Frauke Zeller (Ryerson University) and Davis Harris Smith (McMaster University), were hoping to explore how humans would react to a robot travelling alone, merely relying on the help of strangers. Would they feel confident picking up a robotic hitchhiker? Would they trust hitchBOT? And could hitchBOT trust them? It took the robot only three weeks to travel from coast to coast. Its safe arrival in Victoria, B.C. made headlines around the globe.

After completing similar trips through Germany and the Netherlands the following year, its creators sent the quirky robot on another hitchhiking adventure, this time across the United States. hitchBOT’s US-trip would grab international headlines as well. After only two weeks on the road, the robot went missing. It was found later in Philadelphia, destroyed and beheaded.  

Still, many valuable lessons were learned from this project. hitchBOT was ahead of its time, leading to interesting discussions about ethics and autonomous technology. And even though the US-trip did not end as anticipated, its creators still believe that this experiment showed that robots can trust humans, at least most of the time.

hitchBOT’s hitchhiking days might be over, but it continues to inspire humans around the world.

An updated version of hitchBOT learned to speak French and was touring France until early 2020, not on its own but as part of “Killing Robots,” a play about artificial intelligence. (The tour is currently on hold due to the COVID-19 pandemic).

The version that travelled across Canada is on permanent display at the Science and Technology Museum in Ottawa.

And the remains that were located in Philadelphia were reconstructed and found a new home at the Heinz Nixdorf Museum in Paderborn (Germany), the world’s biggest computer museum.