Tech by VICE

Can Canada’s Adorable Hitchhiking Robot Survive America?

Please don’t kill hitchBOT, America.

by Jordan Pearson
Jul 17 2015, 3:43pm

A friendly-looking man wearing camo and driving a Hummer picks up a helpless hithchBOT. Screengrab: Vimeo

A robot mostly made out of pool noodles and a plastic bucket is putting its life in the hands of a series of random Americans as it hitchhikes across the nation this summer. This could not possibly go wrong.

No, really, things are actually looking pretty good for hitchBOT, a friendly robot built by two Canadian professors for one purpose: to ramble across the world. The robot has already hitchhiked across Canada and Germany without incident (that we know about), tweeting every step of the way. It's also had some pretty wild adventures, like crashing a wedding and being given a ceremonial name that means "Iron Woman" by a First Nations community in Ontario.

Today, hitchBOT is being sent on another trip, starting in Salem, Massachusetts in the hopes of making it all the way to San Francisco—a journey of roughly 4,000 miles if hitchBOT hits everything on its bucket list. HitchBOT's plans include seeing Times Square, Millennium Park in Illinois, Mount Rushmore, and the Grand Canyon. Here's something you probably didn't know about robots: they are such fucking tourists.

HitchBOT is mainly a social experiment meant to reverse the perennial question, "Can we trust robots?" and put the spotlight on humans, its creators told the CBC. Can a helpless robot trust us not to kick it around? Even more practically, can humans be trusted to charge its batteries and not drop it off in the middle of a busy highway? Canadians and Germans have already proven that they're down with robots, but Americans are untested.

Things aren't great for robots right now in the US, after all. Over the last year, prominent figures like Stephen Hawking and Elon Musk have stoked public fear about superintelligent machines rising up and killing us all. Every recent news article about a robot doing something impressive (for a robot) seems to be accompanied by reams of comments all clammering to say, "SKYNET!!!!"

In this environment, it's entirely possible that hitchBOT will run across the kind of person that thinks a shotgun is an appropriate solution to a hobby drone buzzing around.

Even so, hitchBOT's saving grace might just be how cute and totally defenseless it is. A faceless drone hovering above you can understandably have ominous undertones, but who could blast the LED smile off the face of an adorable Welly-wearing bucket of bolts? Right?