Art-Loving Robot Hitchhiker is Dismembered in Philadelphia by a Terrible Human

Photo: Paul Darrow.

This week’s “this is why we can’t have nice things” moment comes in the form of the demise of hitchBOT, a cheerful hitchhiking robot who was damaged beyond repair over the weekend in Philadelphia, just two weeks after beginning his solo journey across the United States.

Beginning in Boston, hitchBOT was bound for the veritable robot paradise that is San Francisco.

Creators Frauke Zeller and David Harris Smith describe hitchBOT as “both an artwork and a social robotics experiment” that flipped the question of whether or not humans can trust robots on its head. And it looks like, sadly, we have our answer.

hitchBOT, who originated in Ontario, safely made his way across Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands, relying on the kindness of strangers to pick up and transport him. But he wasn’t so lucky in the US.

An image shows hitchBOT sprawled on the pavement, missing a head and arms. Gizmodo has a video obtained via Snapchat of a man in an Eagles jersey repeatedly kicking the robot this past weekend. Could this take some of the heat off lion-killing dentist Walter Palmer?

“I guess sometimes bad things happen to good robots! My trip must come to an end for now, but my love for humans will never fade,” reads a statement on hitchBOT’s website.

hitchBOT's US sendoff.  Photo: Instagram.

hitchBOT’s US sendoff.
Photo: Instagram.

The friendly robot was programmed to toss out factoids and carry on limited conversation with fellow travelers and passersby. An internal GPS tracked his location, and a camera randomly snapped photos at 20 minute intervals to document his journey.

Zeller and Smith write that they have no interest in pressing charges against hitchBOT’s vandal, but Internet users are seeking justice.

hitchBOT's travels in the Netherlands.  Photo: Instagram.

hitchBOT’s travels in the Netherlands.
Photo: Instagram.

Meanwhile, NPR reports that a group of Philadelphia-based technology designers at The Hacktory are seeking approval to conduct repairs. “We feel it’s the least we can do to let everyone, especially the robot community, know that Philly isn’t so bad,” said a spokesperson for the organization.

A publicist for the hitchBOT team, however, says its currently unknown whether or not the robot can even be fixed.

hitchBOT leaves behind one sibling, kulturBOT, an urbane robot who travels to art galleries and tweets photos of the artwork on display. hitchBOT also gained a reputation as an art lover during his travels, making an extended visit to the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, as well as several Dutch galleries.

Mechanical friend, you will be missed.


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