Hitchhiking Robot Seeking Human Kindness Meets Violent End In Philly

The selfie-loving robot that spent weeks traveling Canada and Europe, seeking kindness from strangers, only lasted two weeks in the U.S.



The robot tragedy may have a happy ending after all. Hackers have reached out to the Canadian HitchBOT team offering to help rebuild the friendly bot. 

"We’ll say that at this moment, if we get the OK from the creators to repair or replace the needed parts for HitchBOT, we’ll be happy to do so," Georgia Guthrie, executive director for a makerspace called The Hacktory, said. "If not, we understand… and we may just build ourselves a HitchBot2 to send along on its journey. We feel it’s the least we can do to let everyone, especially the Robot community, know that Philly isn’t so bad."

Youngmoo Kim, the director of the Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies at Drexel University in Philadelphia, also offered his assistance in repairing the robot. 

An experiment to test kindness among humans has come to a disturbing end, in the City of Brotherly Love, no less. 

HitchBOT, a hitchhiking robot that became a social media celebrity because of his amazing selfies and quirky travel updates, was vandalized and decapitated by an unknown assailant in Philadelphia just two weeks after the robot kicked off its journey in the United States.

Ironically, HitchBOT was designed by a team of Canadian researchers as a social experiment to explore the relationship between humans and technology. The machine depended upon kindness of strangers to travel across places and was created by David Smith from McMaster University and Frauke Zeller from Ryerson University, in an attempt to find out if humans can trust robots and vice versa.

Unfortunately, their questions were answered in a rather unsettling manner.

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The friendly android had spent weeks traveling through Canada – from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia – and then passing through through cities like Cologne, Berlin and Hamburg in Germany.

The robot relied on the compassion of strange drivers to take him toward his next destination and was designed to hold limited conversations. It also snapped a selfie every 20 minutes to document his adventurous tour.


“HitchBOT’s trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead and New York City,” wrote the robot’s creators on their website. “Unfortunately, hitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots. 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 robot is harmed beyond repair and the creators still don’t know why this happened. To make matters worse, the machine’s head is unaccounted for.

HitchBOT started its journey in Massachusetts and traveled through Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, parts of Rhode Island and New York City. It even attended a Red Sox game before the tragic demise.

Meanwhile, the robot remains fairly optimistic.

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