A cute, harmless robot built by Canadian researchers to study the kindness of strangers was unable to survive in America after successful hitchhiking trips across Canada and Europe, according to the Associated Press. The child-size robot, named hitchBOT, was recovered by its creators in Philadelphia last night after it was irreparably damaged just two weeks into a cross-country trip from Massachusetts to San Francisco. The robot — adorned with a digital smile, an extended thumb, and a sign that declared “San Francisco or bust” — was built as part of a social experiment to study the interactions between humans and robots. To that end, it was also designed to be a travel companion who, once picked up, would spout factoids and attempt small talk with whomever was helping it reach its destination.
HitchBOT had its location tracked via GPS, and its built-in camera automatically took a photo every 20 minutes, many of which were then shared via social media. The experiment had already been tried, without significant injury, in Germany, the Netherlands, and in Canada (where it was able to make it across the country in 26 days). Though previous good Samaritans around the world had taken hitchBOT to a wedding, a comic convention, a Red Sox game, and even a trip out on the ocean, someone in Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, ripped off its head and arms and left it for dead on the side of the road. HitchBOT’s creators had hoped to spare the robot’s young adoring fans from seeing the crime scene, but the image has surfaced on Twitter:
HitchBOT’s creators say on their website that they do not know who attacked it or why, and though they are saddened by its brutal demise, hitchBOT will hitch again:
[S]ometimes bad things happen to good robots. We know that many of hitchBOT’s fans will be disappointed, but we want them to be assured that this great experiment is not over. For now we will focus on the question “what can be learned from this?” and explore future adventures for robots and humans.