When Jim first interviewed hitchBOT last year, the lovable little hitchhiking robot expressed his fears.
I’m quite nervous because I’ll be hitchhiking alone. My journey’s success is reliant on those kind-hearted souls that I’ll hopefully meet along the way. I’ll need to consider what to pack and where to go to recharge after a long day. Of course, I’ll also need to consider how to interact with locals — after all, it’s not every day that people get to interact with a handsome robot like myself.
That was the deal. The cute little thing couldn’t move on his own but would get picked up by others, would take some photos for Instagram, and would hold a rudimentary conversation. He was little more than a bucket, a cake-saver head and a pair of Wellies on pool noodle arms and legs, but he was loved, and last year documented his trips across Canada and Germany on Instagram and Twitter.
Only recently, Michael wrote about how hitchBOT was ready for another great journey, from Salem, Massachusetts, to San Francisco. Being made from a bucket (among other parts), he even had a bucket list of tourist attractions.
Alas, he never made it past Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love. He appears to have been mugged and decapitated by unknown parties and left on the sidewalk. No one knows why, (there's some speculation that this is part of a dispute between Toronto rapper Drake and Philadelphia’s Meek Mill), but we will probably never know. The builders of hitchBOT say they “have no interest in pressing charges or finding the people who vandalized hitchBOT; we wish to remember the good times, and we encourage hitchBOT’s friends and fans to do the same.”
But hitchBOT was more than a robot, he was a morality play. As Blanche Dubois said in "A Streetcar named Desire," “I’ve always depended on the kindness of strangers.” That’s what hitchBOT did — and he brought out the best in people, the strangers who would pick him up and give him a lift, take photos, join in the fun. It was a fascinating experiment in mixing social media and robotics. You can go through a thousand Instagrams and all you see are smiles.
I will not post the photo of hitchBOT’s dismembered body (you can see it on Paleofuture if you're that kind of person) because I want to remember him as he was, the smiling funny robot. I also recommend that you keep away from the comments on those sites covering the story. There's a lot of anger and a sense of “Why am I not surprised? This is America.” And really, Philadelphia is a nice place. It could have happened anywhere.
Evidently what is left of hitchBOT has been recovered and returned to Ryerson University in Toronto. (I teach sustainable design there, and will try to visit him and report back soon!) His last message:
Oh dear, my body was damaged, but I live on back home and with all my friends. I guess sometimes bad things happen to good robots! My trip must come to an end for now, but my love for humans will never fade. Thank you to all my friends.
Goodbye, hitchBOT. May your memory be a blessing.
Related on MNN:
- Do robots have souls?
- 10 robots and machines from the history books
- I, for one, welcome the new robot hotel staff at Japan's Henn-na Hotel