News / Vancouver

Hitchhiking robot hitchBOT thumbs rides to B.C., crashes wedding

hitchBOT, the friendly, Wellie-wearing, social media-savvy robot, arrived in B.C. this weekend after two weeks of bumming rides across Canada.

The hitchhiking robot’s first stop? Golden, B.C., where the robot hitched a ride to observe—what else?— a couple get hitched. The wedding-crashing robot even took its gumboots to the dance floor, cutting it loose with bride and groom Julie and Kyle Shepherd after their Aug. 9 nuptials.

“It’s been really exciting,” said hitchBOT co-creator David Harris Smith, a professor at McMaster University, of the robot's success as a social media sensation. "If you follow the Twitter feed, there's so many people going, 'Oh, where are you?' or 'How come you went through here so fast?'"

 hitchBOT, the friendly hitchhiking robot, crashed a wedding in Golden, B.C., on Aug. 9.

hitchBOT, the friendly hitchhiking robot, crashed a wedding in Golden, B.C., on Aug. 9.

hitchBOT set off from Halifax on July 27 with a goal of travelling to Victoria, B.C., by thumbing rides from friendly strangers across the country.

Part collaborative art project and social robotics experiment, hitchBOT’s creators built him with a goal of answering the question of whether robots can trust human beings. The robot, which is about the size of a child, was made to appear non-threatening with household items like a beer bucket for a body, Wellington boots on its feet and yellow gardening gloves for hands.

Smith, who has followed hitchBOT’s regular updates on Twitter and Instagram along the way, said it’s been an incredible experience watching the robot became an online phenomenon.

Along the way, hitchBOT was invited to a pow-wow with the Wikwemikong First Nation group, where the robot was dubbed Biiaabkookwe, before it later hitched a ride with Belgian tourists.

The reaction from families is especially heartwarming, he said, with children sending in artwork of hitchBOT and messages for the friendly robot.

Smith recalled one story about a child who sat at the end of the family’s driveway for some time “hoping hitchBOT was going to come by.”

While there were concerns about hitchBOT making it to B.C. in one piece, Smith said there haven’t been any issues with vandalism or theft. But the robot’s journey hasn’t been drama-free, he said.

“There’s times when the cellular coverage has been poor, or hitchBOT wasn’t plugged in so he wasn’t able to transmit,” he said.

On Sunday afternoon, hitchBOT was in Kelowna where it bragged on Instagram about its amazing view from an undisclosed location. Although its cross-Canada trip has been relatively quick so far, Smith said he has no idea how long it could take to reach Victoria.

Some people with airplanes have been offering to fly hitchBOT to other parts of the country, including Air North that tweeted about taking the robot to Whitehorse, he said.

“It might be next year,” he said with a laugh. “You never know."

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