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Hitchhiking robot enters the Okanagan during final leg of Halifax-to-Victoria journey

Canadian professors created a talking robot that will take a cross-country journey.
Image Credit: The Canadian Press
August 13, 2014 - 1:11 PM

KELOWNA - The chatty, social-media-savvy robot that's been thumbing rides with Canadians over the past three weeks is nearing the end of its Halifax-to-Victoria hitchhiking adventure.

Its creators say the last time it checked in, Hitchbot was passing through Kelowna on its way to the Open Space art centre on Vancouver Island.

"We were expecting the unexpected," said the robot's co-creator David Smith, who teaches in department of communication studies at McMaster University in Hamilton. "But there's no way that we could have expected the number of really memorable and significant events that Hitchbot participated in."

Since its more than 6,000-kilometre journey began in Nova Scotia on July 26, the Wellie-wearing robot has been camping in New Brunswick's Kouchibouguac National Park, attended a First Nations powwow on Manitoulin Island in Ontario and even crashed a wedding in Golden, B.C.

Hitchbot is the brainchild of a group of Ontario-based communications researchers. The project is part of a study investigating trust between human beings and technology.

"It's been really, really exciting," said Smith from his office in Hamilton. "We've been actually really impressed and in some cases deeply moved by people's responses."

Hitchbot has dipped its yellow Wellies in Lake Superior, taken in some musical performances in Kelowna and even shaken its robo-booty to the harlem shake while passing through the prairies.

Along the way, it has kept track of its adventures on social media, where tens of thousands of fans follow its Twitter, Facebook and Instagram updates.

Hundreds of people have met the robot in person, says Smith, with tens of thousands more following its trans-continental trek through social media.

As of Wednesday, its Instagram following was nearing 11,000 followers. Its Twitter account had nearly 32,000 followers and its Facebook page had garnered more than 41,000 likes.

"The physical bot is in a way a portal to a social media audience," said Smith.

As for what's next, Smith said Hitchbot and its team have been invited to present at an innovation and entrepreneurship conference in Silicon Valley, as well as visiting various museums and galleries across Canada.

Smith said he is also hoping to organize visits to communities who expressed disappointment that Hitchbot was forced to bypass on his hitchhiking trip.

"As an artistic work one of the things you hope for is public engagement, stimulating the imagination, maybe instilling a sense of wonder and curiosity, reflection, on the current cultural conditions," said Smith. "I think Hitchbot has done this beyond all expectations."

In the meantime, when asked whether Hitchbot would be using his rubber glove-clad thumb to return to his creators in Ontario, Smith's answer was vague.

"You never know," he said, laughing. "You never know."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2014
The Canadian Press

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