By now you have probably heard of hitchBOT, the Wellie-footed, Canadian hitchhiking robot from Port Credit, Ontario, who was vandalized and destroyed on the streets of Philadelphia, all for the purpose of what appears to be a social experiment quantifying the measurements of human kindness.
A message has been posted by "members of the family" (i.e., the hitchBOT design team) concerning his tragic fate:
"hitchBOT's trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, and New York City. Unfortunately, hitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes 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."
Despite the fact that hitchBOT met its end under tragic circumstances (it was apparently stripped for parts), it made quite the journey beforehand — traveling over 6,000 miles across Canada, with vacations in the Netherlands and Germany — solely depending on the kindness of strangers, as Blanche DuBois would say.
hitchBot began its all-too-brief U.S. jaunt in Boston, then made its way down the Eastern seaboard.
Not everyone was sympathetic to hitchBOT's demise. Over at Deadspin, Albert Burneko bristled at the utility of hitchBOT, calling it "a garbage can with an iPhone in it. It could not walk or stand or fire lasers or open a can of beans." Burneko went on:
The impulse, here, is to say that hitchBOT was "destroyed," but that is nonsense; what is the actual consequence to hitchBOT of detaching its parts? A loss of function? What function? It had no function. It was a pile of trash. Providing a cathartic release for some pissed-off Eagles fan is the closest it has ever come to usefulness. In its violent disassembling, it found, briefly and for the first time, an actual purpose.
Okay, so when it comes down to sheer utility, Burneko might have a point. Then again, utility wasn't necessarily the impetus or imperative of the roving robot. As Brigette Deger-Smylie, a project manager for the hitchBOT program, told Wired: "As researchers, we were asking the question, 'can robots trust humans?'" She then commented on hitchBOT's incidental legacy, focusing on the optimism and ethos of the original concept:
"We haven't yet considered what sort of changes we would make to HitchBOT, though it's important to remember that this vandalism was just one event. People were trusting of HitchBOT and helped it reach its hitchhiking goals, and we've learned a lot about how we approach robots in non-restricted, non-observed ways — which, overwhelmingly, has been positive."
Check out these videos of the now-deceased hitchBOT below.