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ROBOTICA Invasion: hitchBOT, the Hitchhiking Robot

August 27, 2014

We’ve got a new book coming out in September called ROBOTICA: Mechanical Marvels and Mind-Melting Machines of the Past, Present, and Future. Yep—it’s a book all about awesome robots. Here’s a little taste of the strange and wonderful robots you’ll find in that book.

Uncle Johns RoboticaIt couldn’t chip in for gas, but this robot managed to make its way all the way across Canada, and by itself. The story of hitchBOT, the hitchhiking robot, began earlier this year, when 19-year-old McMaster University mechatronic engineering student Colin Gagich teamed up with some colleagues at his Ontario college to build hitchBOT. They assembled it in Gagich’s basement out of various household objects and salvaged parts. After building its frame and head out of a beer cooler and a garbage can lid, they made arms and legs out of pool noodles. They added two boots for feet and a pair of kitchen gloves for hands.

The goal of the unusual project: to see if the robot could make it all the way from the east coast of Canada to Victoria, British Columbia, a 3,700-mile trek, without getting lost or vandalized. Its creators also said that they were eager to find out, as they put it, “if robots could trust human beings” (which is often a problem, when the roles are reversed). They installed a GPS tracking unit in order to keep tabs on hitchBOT, which needed to rely on motorists to plug it in every six hours so it could stay powered.

hitchBOT began its odyssey on July 27th at the Institute for Applied Creativity at NSCAD University. Gagich simply put the 15-pound robot outside to await its first ride. In the weeks that followed, the robot managed to bum rides from motorists that took it camping in Kouchibouguac National Park and even brought it to a powwow on Ontario’s Manitoulin Island. Meanwhile, hitchBOT’s Twitter account drew hundreds of followers eager to track its many adventures on the road.

hitchBOT from hitchBOT on Vimeo.

Gagich and his crew also provided the robot with voice recognition software and a female-sounding voice so it could chat during rides. One of its pre-programmed topics included stating that it wanted to own a dog someday. When one driver heard this, they decided to buy the robot a plush doggie to keep it company and a little pink backpack to store it in.

It took hitchBOT about three weeks to complete its journey and it arrived in Victoria in pretty good shape. Gagich and his colleagues are now eager to see if the robot can handle similar treks in other countries. They’re currently considering a trip to California.

All hail the robots? Click here to order ROBOTICA!

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