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Thumbing its way across Canada

This hitchhiking robot is traveling across Canada this summer.
This hitchhiking robot is traveling across Canada this summer.
@hitchBOT on Twitter

Let’s face it, hitchhikers are sketchy, but one robot who’s thumbing for a ride this summer may paint a different picture of the shady scene. Phys.org reported on Saturday, Aug. 2, a robot by the name of hitchBot is already halfway across Canada in its soical experiment trip.

The gender-neutral robot was developed by an assistant professor at Toronto's Ryerson University, Frauke Zeller and professor at McMaster University, David Harris Smith, along with a team of specialists.This social experiment will be based, not on whether or not humans can trust robots, but on whether or not robots can trust humans.

Media has portrayed robots as “the enemy,” but this robot is of a friendlier nature. hitchBot is fully dependent on humans. "It cannot achieve its task of hitchhiking across Canada without the help of people, because it cannot move by itself," Zeller said.

Hitchbot is made of common items including; a LED panel face, a see through cake cover over its face, solar panels over a plastic bucket as a torso, swimming noodles for arms and legs, rubber boots and yellow latex gloves with one thumb sticking out. Inside you can find a PC tablet and items from Arduino- “the open-source electronics platform.” The weight and size of the robot had to be just right: light enough to be taken in and out of a car, but heavy enough to withstand a gust of wind.

So far it appears that robots can trust humans. The robot has been seen with people feeding it, covering it for protection and of course giving it a ride. "People seem to be rather intrigued with hitchBOT, and take very good care (of it)," Smith said in an email to CNN.

Hitchbot began its trip July 27 in Halifax, N.S in Canada. This bot’s journey is being documented on its website as well as social media. He has over 21,000 followers on Twitter.The robot records the trip via GPS. It also takes photos, that are screened before they are posted, and can record conversations, with permission.

If you encounter hitchBot you are able to go to its website where there are instructions for its care. When it gets tired hitchBot will ask you for a recharge using your car's cigarette lighter receptacle. If you pick up hitchBot you will not be bored as it is able to have a small conversation with you. It can do small talk, answer questions and pull facts from Wikipedia.

"We knew that sometimes ... hitchBOT won't be able to properly understand what people are saying. For these cases, we came up with the solution to let hitchBOT simply chatter away," its creators said in the email with CNN. "We taught hitchBOT to say that sometimes it gets a bit carried away, and that its programmers could only write that many scripts, hoping for people to be patient."

HitchBot’s final destination is Victoria, British Columbia which is almost 4,000 miles away from its starting point. The end goal of the experiment is to shows the “relationship between humans and "smart" technologies” said the creators. There were concerns about the mistreatment of hitchBot, but those concerns have been lessened.

“We have seen so much support on social media and through other channels that we are now more optimistic," the creators said in the email to CNN. "They (the robot's drivers) all say that wherever they go with hitchBOT, they meet lots of people through it. Everybody stops, takes pictures, and wants to talk ... so this is an interesting case of technology bringing humans closer to each other."