If you see this pile of junk on the side of the road, think twice before speeding by. It's not a pile of junk at all. It's called "hitchBOT," a talking, tweeting, galoshes-wearing, GPS-enabled robot that's attempting to hitchhike across Canada.
This sounds like a joke. But it's really not.
The idea for hitchBOT was conceived in 2013 as a collaborative art project between professors at Canada's McMaster and Ryerson Universities. It has morphed into a social experiment, "to explore topics in human-robot-interaction and to test technologies in artificial intelligence and speech recognition and processing," the universities said in a joint press release.
The goal is for the contraption to hitchhike approximately 3,700 miles west from Halifax, Nova Scotia, to Victoria, British Columbia.
How does a robot made of an old bucket, pool noodles, solar panels and a computerized brain hitchhike across a country? Turns out, hitchBOT's creators enabled the robot to speak. People can ask it about its creation, its journey and the people who built it.
“We expect hitchBOT to be charming and trustworthy enough in its conversation to secure rides across Canada," said Dr. David Harris Smith, an assistant professor of communication studies and multimedia at McMaster University.
HitchBOT is also expected to chronicle its journey. Equipped with 3G wireless and GPS, hitchBOT is posting updates to social media along the way. It posted this to Instagram two days ago (though we're not sure how hitchBOT managed to take the picture):
In addition to its solar panels, hitchBOT can be charged up via any electrical outlet or even a car's cigarette lighter. If, by chance, hitchBOT's power runs out while waiting roadside, it comes with written instructions that explain how to strap it into a car and plug it in, and directs people to an instructional website.
“Usually, we are concerned with whether we can trust robots. This project asks: can robots trust human beings?” said Dr. Frauke Zeller, an assistant professor at Ryerson University.
Could hitchBOT someday be your robotic office assistant? Probably not. But as artificial intelligence technology heats up, experiments like this one can turn up some interesting results. Hopefully hitchBOT doesn't mistakenly wind up in a trash dump in Winnipeg or somewhere else on the way.