For a time, I hitchhiked back and forth to college, and on one rare occasion actually put my thumb out for rides to the Caspian Sea in Iran. But it seems like a lost art these days, when we all have so much fear of the open road.
But even though we're getting kind of overprotective of children, one 6-year-old is defying the trend. In fact, he’s hitchhiking solo across Canada, beginning on July 27. He’s blogging about it, too, and admits to some 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.
Yes, a robot. The full name is hitchBOT, and he was reared in Port Credit, Ontario, the offspring of Dr. David Smith (McMaster University) and Dr. Frauke Zeller (Ryerson University). His one sibling is kulturBOT, who travels between art galleries and tweets about the experience.
hitchBOT, who has "Mr. Roboto" on repeat and enjoys the music of Kraftwerk and Blueman Group, is going to depend on the kindness of strangers. Drivers on the main highways between Nova Scotia and British Columbia might encounter him with his thumb out (only the one arm is movable). If you happen to pick him up, plug him into your car’s cigarette lighter and he will become quite talkative. He can tweet and post selfies to Instagram.
hitchBOT's brain, including LEDs, plastic bearings, motors and a mirror, is going to be enclosed in a former cake box. (Photo courtesy of hitchBOT)
According to Smith, “hitchBOT is a story-telling and story-collecting robot, something like the Mars rover or the Voyager satellite, except he is here exploring the cultural life of Canada. We’re hoping he has side adventures, and gets out and about to see more of the country.” It’s best to think of him as a piece of conceptual theater, commenting on how we integrate technology into cultural and social life.
This is hitchBOT's younger sibling, kulturBOT, who explores art galleries and tweets about it. (Photo courtesy of hitchBOT)
If the first person to pick up hitchBOT throws him in a swimming pool or sells him to a pawn shop, it won’t say much good about the charity of strangers. If on the other hand, he is passed lovingly onward from one westward traveler to another, with blog entries and interesting tweets along the way, then faith in humanity is restored.
Zeller says that people who pick up hitchBOT will get instructions from him on proper seatbelt technique, and how to best interact with him. Sleepovers are encouraged, and all kinds of detours, as long as he’s eventually put back on the highway for another ride. “The question has been,” Zeller said, “Can we trust robots? That’s an important question, but we’re turning it around to ask, Can robots actually trust human beings?”
hitchBOT says he graduated with degrees in astrophysics and philosophy. "It certainly is an interesting mix," he says:
That is what happens when a robot is influenced by both the sciences and the humanities. Simply put, I am a free-spirited robot who wants to explore Canada and meet new friends along the way. I am an avid Instagrammer and Tweeter. On my downtime, I can appreciate a good game of trivia and would never pass up any opportunities to bake desserts.
The parents of hitchBOT went on Canadian TV in Toronto:
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