HitchBOT Shows That Robots Can Trust Humans With Cross-Canada Journey

A project cosponsored by a group of Canadian universities, startups and Microsoft Azure has resulted in a robot named HitchBOT successfully making its way across Canada, beginning its journey in Halifax on the country’s eastern coast and ending in Victoria, British Columbia on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

The project saw a rudimentary robot depending completely on strangers willing to pick it up and transport it to get where it was going, and the entire journey took only a little less than a month and resulted in no major injuries, besides a cracked protector screen for its LED ‘face’ and somewhat garbled speech compared to its initial eloquence.

HitchBOT was picked up only two minutes after it began its journey, and had an easy go of finding subsequent rides along the way. The robot is very crude, but could have conversations with its drivers, though occasionally it required power from the cigarette lighter port of cars, or from any standard outlet. Its speech engine is also very simplistic, so fielding a lot of questions could potentially result in an overload that requires the bot to shut down and reboot, which could take anywhere from a few minutes to a couple of hours.

HitchBOT’s complexity or lack thereof isn’t the point of this art/science/research project, however; project co-creator Frauke Zeller says the bot’s quick and safe journey across country shows that robots can trust in the kindness of strangers, in an interview with the Toronto Star.

It’s an interesting angle, especially given how much attention is paid to whether humans can trust robots – we’re all on edge about the possibility of Skynet awakening and deciding to eradicate its imperfect, flabby, messy flesh-filled creators, but what about the (more likely?) possibility that humans end up breaking, modifying or defacing every robot they encounter in public?

HitchBOT made it safe and sound, but to be fair he was traveling across the country with perhaps the best reputation for an affable, kind citizenry in existence. I move that HitchBOT next try to make its way across the U.S., or at least the mean streets of the U.K.