hitchBOT creators mull rebuild after beloved robot destroyed

'Can robots trust humans?' Answer: 'Mostly.'


TORONTO — The friendly Canadian hitchhiking robot that met its untimely end on the hard streets of Philadelphia might be given another chance at life.

HitchBOT’s co-creators say they have been overwhelmed with support and offers to revive the child-sized robot since it was destroyed early Saturday and they are considering rebuilding it.

The robot was on a hitchhiking adventure in the U.S. after successful ventures in Canada and parts of Europe that saw strangers help hitchBOT travel from place to place while checking items off its bucket list.

This time, hitchBOT was dismembered before it could complete its goals — which this time included taking a selfie with the Hollywood sign and seeing the house from Pixar’s “Up.”

Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University and David Smith of McMaster University created hitchBOT and kept its adventures going as a social experiment with a number of their students.

Zeller said many people have reached out with offers to rebuild hitchBOT, and her team will make a decision on whether or not they will bring the robot back to life in coming days.

“We were taken quite by surprise because it’s been going so well so far,” she said.

“We don’t really know what to do, so we have to sit down with the whole team and really see where we are and what can be done.”

She said she knows the news has been heartbreaking for many of hitchBOT’s fans, children and adults alike.

Since word got out, thousands of supporters have taken to social media to express their sadness and outrage: “I am incensed. I hope the perpetrators are found and punished. Long live the good memories. Hope to see you reincarnated soon!” wrote one Twitter user.

“If I could drive, I would have personally helped you across the USA and kept you safe,” added another.

Smith said the robot’s destruction is the exception to “many, many” unsupervised encounters that hitchBOT has had with strangers.

During its short-lived U.S. trip, the adventurous hitchBOT attended a Red Sox game—even donning a jersey over its cylindrical body—and took a ride on a New York City subway.

Smith said hitchBOT even had some good times in Philly, attending an extended family picnic at a park and being taken in by a well-known YouTuber who set the robot up for its next ride.

But it was then that the innocent hitchBOT met its demise.

“We’ve always asked, in the context of this project: ‘Can robots trust humans?”’ Smith said.

“And, you know, we would say at this point, mostly.”


Looking for more?

Get the Best of Maclean's sent straight to your inbox. Sign up for news, commentary and analysis.