It’s immobile on its own, relying on the kindness of strangers.
The video has fuelled more online outrage over the demise of hitchBOT, but others are questioning the authenticity and provenance of the video, given that the man who supplied it also runs a YouTube prank show.
It started in Marblehead, Massachusetts, on July 17 with its thumb raised skyward, a grin on its digital face and tape wrapped around its cylindrical head that read “San Francisco or bust”.
“If not, we understand… and we may just build ourselves a HitchBot2 to send along on its journey”.
HitchBOT first garnered attention at the end of last year when the friendliest-looking robot you’re ever likely to see began a hitchhiking quest across Canada as part of a social experiment to judge humans’ interactions with robots.
The robot is usually passed between travellers, or left in a visible place for passers-by to give the child-sized machine a lift.
The robot was designed to be a talking travel companion and could toss out factoids and carry limited conversation. A Global Positioning System in the robot tracked its location, and a camera snapped photos about every 20 minutes to document its adventures.
Smith said the hitchBOT even had some good times in Philadelphia, attending an extended family picnic at a park and being taken in by a well-known You Tube user who set the robot up for its next ride. They decided not to share that image because it could be upsetting to some viewers.
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Zeller said many people have reached out with offers to rebuild the droid, and her team will make a decision on whether to bring the robot back to life in the coming days.
“We feel it’s the least we can do to let everyone, especially the Robot community, know that Philly isn’t so bad, it’s got some really great stuff going on, and great people”. I hope the perpetrators are found and punished.
For now, the researchers are focusing on what they can learn from this experience. In the US it crossed three states before meeting its brutal end, but the creators say they don’t have a grudge with Philadelphia and neither plans to press charges against whoever vandalized it. But this project takes it the other way around and asks: “can robots trust human beings?”.