HitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot that captured the hearts of fans worldwide, is dead, vandalized and torn apart by hoodlums just two weeks after it entered US territory. The Canadian researchers who created HitchBOT as a social experiment told AP that someone in Philadelphia damaged the robot beyond repair this weekend, ending its first American tour before it even fulfilled its dream of seeing some of America’s biggest attractions.
“Sometimes bad things happen to good robots,” they wrote, adding, “We know that many of HitchBOT’s fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over. For now we will focus on the question ‘what can be learned from this?’ and explore future adventures for robots and humans.”
“The head, as far as we know, is missing.”
HitchBOT was created by Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University and David Smith of McMaster University as part of a social experiment to see how humans would interact with technology when it is given a slightly human face. It was deliberately made with cheap materials to discourage vandals – such as the ones who ultimately took its head – and the whole apparatus cost just under $1000.
The kid-size robot set out to travel cross-country after successfully hitchhiking across Canada in 26 days last year and parts of Europe. It’s immobile on its own, relying on the kindness of strangers. Those who picked it up often passed it to other travellers or left it where others might notice it. It can also hold limited conversations with humans, and had inbuilt cameras that flashed every 20 minutes, a handy way of documenting and broadcasting how its trip was going so far. People who picked the robot up were contacted by its makers to secure permission before their images were posted on social media, mainly on HitchBOT’s burgeoning Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and his own website.
Last summer, HitchBOT travelled across Canada from Halifax to Victoria. This February, it successfully completed a similar trip in Germany, followed by a vacation in the Netherlands in June. Its U.S. trip began in Boston on July 17 with a goal of hitchhiking to San Francisco. The people thought to have last seen hitchBOT in one piece on Friday were YouTube vloggers from BFvsGF.
Now, despite the social media outrage, its makers said that they will not be wasting their time on finding the culprit. “We are not in the business of blame,” Smith said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
Fans from across the world, however, are left heartbroken, and with more proof that us humans really need to get our act together if we are to stay together on this fragile planet.