A mystery around the destruction of the hitchhiking robot hitchBOT

The hitchhiking robot hitchBOT at an exhibition in Semptember 2014
The hitchhiking robot hitchBOT at an exhibition in Semptember 2014

The story of the destruction of the hitchhiking robot hitchBOT (photo ©Archie) in Philadelphia spread quickly on the Internet. The story was peculiar because the protagonist was a robot but it seemed that its misfortune was the result of a vulgar act of vandalism, especially after a video of its destruction popped up on the Internet. Instead, the analysis of the video proves that it’s a fake so now the story turned into a mystery with two suspects.

HitchBOT was a robot that for over a year was the protagonist in a series of experiments. Created by David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University, both in Ontario, Canada, was essentially a computer that provided a rudimentary ability to interact with humans in a roughly android body. A GPS and a 3G allowed its builders to track its location.

hitchBOT couldn’t move on its own and therefore relied on people for its travel. Almost exactly a year ago, it spent nearly a month hitchhiking in Canada and, with the help of ordinary people, managed to make a trip from Nova Scotia to British Columbia, which means from the east coast to the west coast.

In February 2015, hitchBOT traveled for a few days in Germany, again hitchhiking. On July 17, 2015, hitchBOT began a new trip in the USA with the intention of crossing the nation starting from the east coast. After going through some New England states, its new adventure ended tragically on August 1 with its destruction by unknown assailants in Philadelphia.

Many people, also in the Philadelphia area, offered their help to rebuild hitchBOT but the story has become a mistery after a vlogger put online the alleged video of the robot’s destruction. The origin of the video was attributed to a security camera and the vlogger that published is one of the last people who gave hitchBOT a lift.

On the Internet it’s easy to find many people able to find inconsistencies in a video and yesterday the one of the alleged hitchBOT destruction was exposed as a fake. At this point, it’s inevitable to wonder if the vlogger only wanted to get publicity and especially if he’s one of the culprits of the robot’s destruction. With this doubt, for now I’m not making his name although it’s easy to find it.

HitchBOT was created as a social experiment to study humans’ reactions when they’re dealing with a robot, despite its limitations. The reactions on the Internet that followed its destruction and the mistery around that event could provide the team that handled it more food for thought than they anticipated.

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