Summer social experiment

You are driving down the highway when you see two figures moving along the side of the road.

You are driving down the highway when you see two figures moving along the side of the road.

As you approach, they stick out their thumbs, signaling their request for a ride.

Do you stop and pick them up? Or keep driving?

Many drivers are uneasy about picking up hitchhikers. Most police officers would also recommend against offering rides to strangers on the side of the road as well as using hitchhiking as a mode of transportation.

However, hitchhikers are still a common site along roadsides in the summer and we know they do manage to get from one point to another somehow.

In a joint project, McMaster and Ryerson Universities have collaborated to build a hitchhiking robot which they hope can hitchhike across the country this summer in an experiment to see how willing Canadians are to help travelers explore the country, at least the robotic kind.

Going by the released renderings of Hitchbot, the machine won’t look like much from the outside.

Hitchbot’s body consists of a bucket, has simple rods for legs, arms that can signal for a ride (his only moveable parts) and a cake saver for a head.

Inside however, there is some sophisticated technology that allows Hitchbot to see, speak and report its location to his creators.

When plugged into the auxiliary power in a vehicle after it has been picked up, a microphone and speaker allow Hitchbot to recognize (or at least attempt to recognize) speech and respond using a Wikipedia database and dialogue written by Hitchbot’s creators.

3G network capabilities and GPS will allow Hitchbot’s location to be tracked as he travels across Canada.

This social experiment puts a great deal of faith into the community as well. It trusts that those who will pick up the robot will not damage or steal it.

However, if Hitchbot is destroyed or goes missing, ‘sibling robots’ are standing by to step in and complete the experiment.

It will be interesting to see how willing Canadians are to help Hitchbot complete its journey.

While the teams from McMaster and Ryerson will be able to track and even communicate with the robot, Hitchbot will be entirely reliant on the kindness of others to complete its journey.

Hitchbot will begin its journey on July 27th, starting at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design.

If all goes according to plan, Hitchbot will then enjoy a series of rides across the country to reach its destination, the Open Space Gallery in Victoria.