hitchBOT ‘killed’ one year after Manitoulin visit

Emerson and Greyson Case and their mother Allison Brewer pose with hitchBOT during her stopover in Wikwemikong last year.

Successfully crosses Canada, part of Europe but lasts two weeks in US

PHILADELPHIA— Only two weeks into her American adventure, hitchBOT, or Biiabkookwe (Iron Woman) as she was named during her stop at the Wikwemikong Cultural festival last year, was stopped in her tracks in the City of Brotherly Love, found dismembered in the cold streets of Philadelphia.

hitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot that found a worldwide following when she started her Canadian adventure last year—thumbing it across the country and relying on the kindness of strangers to get her from destination to destination—was the brainchild of David Harris, an assistant professor at Hamilton’s McMaster University, who came up with the idea of creating a collaborative art project centred-around a socially animated hitchhiking robot. Professor Smith had said that that hitchBOT was also “an experiment that looks at the interaction between people and increasingly ubiquitous technology.”

The size of a child, with pool noodle arms and donning a pair of rubber boots (hitchBOT was prepared for any weather), the robot successfully made it across Canada, as well as the Netherlands and Germany. At her stop on Manitoulin during the Civic Holiday weekend last summer, Sheshegwaning elder Bill Antoine bestowed upon the little robot a traditional Anishinaabe name—Biiabkookwe—while visiting the Wikwemikomg powwow and her friend Chief Duke Peltier. hitchBOT was a popular attraction with many people taking the time to snap a photo with her, pleased they got the chance to ‘meet’ the robot that had gained so much national attention and that her last ride thought it fitting to bring her to Manitoulin on her cross-country adventure.

The robot was known to engage its benefactor in conversation that is sometimes relevant, sometimes less than intuitive. Among the things that she will mention is when her batteries are running down, requesting that the driver help her out by plugging her in for a bit—sometimes a longer bit (30-45 minutes) if she is feeling particularly rundown.

Among the chatter drivers may have learned while driving down the road with hitchBOT last year is that “as a robot, I enjoy listening to electronic music. I currently have Mr. Roboto on repeat but the Blueman Group and Kraftwerk are also amazing. I was conceived in Port Credit, Ontario. My guardians are Dr. David Smith (McMaster University) and Dr. Frauke Zeller (Ryerson University). Growing up I was surrounded by bright, intelligent and supportive people who I am proud to call my family. I have one sibling, kulturBOT, who travels from one art gallery to the next, tweeting photos of the artwork and of the venues. kulturBOT is definitely not as good-looking or well-rounded as I am: I enjoy reading a lot of books, and I’m especially interested in philosophy and astrophysics. It certainly is an interesting mix—that is what happens when a robot is influenced by both the sciences and 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.”

hitchBOT began her American saga two weeks ago from Massachusetts with a sign reading ‘San Francisco or bust.’ While in Philadelphia, and after taking in a Red Sox game and a boat cruise, the robot’s creators received a photo of the robot showing her head, arms and legs removed on a litter-lined street.

At 5:04 pm on August 1 the robot tweeted to her followers: ‘Oh dear, my body was damaged, but I live on with all my friends. Sometimes bad things happen to good robots! #hitchBOTinUSA followed by ‘My trip must come to an end for now, but my love for humans will never fade. Thanks friends.’

While offers of support and help to rebuild hitchBOT have come pouring in to its creators from across North America, the robot’s owners are still unsure of whether they will proceed with the project, telling news outlets that they are still reeling from what happened to their beloved hitchBOT.