Robot hitchhiker nears end of 6000km journey across Canada

HitchBOT looks like it's made of components from a garage sale. Photo / AP
HitchBOT looks like it's made of components from a garage sale. Photo / AP

It has dipped its boots in Lake Superior, crashed a wedding and attended an aboriginal pow-wow.

A talking, bucket-bodied robot has enthralled Canadians since it departed from Halifax last month on a 6000km hitchhiking journey to the Pacific coast.

HitchBOT, created by Ontario-based communication researchers studying the relationship between people and technology, will reach its final destination tomorrow in Victoria, British Columbia, where it will receive a traditional aboriginal canoe greeting at Victoria Harbor.

"What we wanted to do is situate robotics and artificial technologies into unlikely scenarios and push the limits of what it's capable of," said David Smith, the robot's co-creator, who teaches at Ontario's McMaster University. The robot looks like it was made out of components scavenged from a garage sale - a bucket, pool noodles, cake saver, garden gloves and yellow gumboots - but it has a sense of direction and can even ask and answer questions.

Smith said hitchBOT had a GPS system and was programmed with speech recognition software that worked in conjunction with language modelling. The robot linked questions with answers by looking for key words and was programmed to scour Wikipedia to spit out regionally relevant facts.

The team also programmed hitchBOT to track its adventures online and take pictures to post on Twitter and Instagram.

It didn't take long for HitchBOT to become a social media sensation. Smith said its Instagram following was approaching 11,000 people, its Facebook account had garnered more than 41,000 "likes" and it had nearly 32,000 Twitter followers.

- AP

- Herald on Sunday

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