Canada Sent a Friendly Robot to Meet Americans. Americans Destroyed It.

Canada Sent a Friendly Robot to Meet Americans. Americans Destroyed It.
Source: Vimeo
Source: Vimeo

This is why we can't have nice things. On Saturday, vandals in Philadelphia destroyed a hitchhiking robot from Canada named HitchBot, two weeks into its trip from Boston to San Francisco.

HitchBot was originally designed as a social experiment. Two Canadian professors programmed HitchBot with only a few functions: It can recognize human voices, communicate with them and upload photos to social media. If you stopped your car on the side of the road for what looked like a blinking, smiling R2-D2, HitchBot gave you a message about where it wanted to go and asked if it could catch a ride.

"I want to experience the American dream," it says in its video, "Ready for the USA." Sadly, it experienced the worst part of American culture instead. After being dropped off in Philadelphia's Old City district, HitchBot was found by vandals who beat the crap out of it and cut off its head.

Before reaching Yankee shores, HitchBot had already hitchhiked and documented his travels across Germany and Canada. 

It had just set out to check off a bunch of things on its bucket list, like seeing the lights of Times Square in New York.

But there could be a happy ending: A Philadelphia-based robotics company called the Hacktory isn't willing to let HitchBot die. It's setting wheels in motion to either repair HitchBot or build a new one so it can continue on with its journey. 

"We at the Hacktory were really sad to hear HitchBot had such a bad time in Philly," Georgia Guthrie, executive director of the Hacktory, told Mic. "As the news has spread, it seems that there's a number of people willing to help, and a few efforts have sprung up to repair the bot or build a whole new one. On our end, we'll do our best to coordinate these efforts and explore building a new bot, as the parts from the first one seem to be heading back to Canada. It may take a little time, and our resources are slim right now, but we definitely love the spirit of HitchBot and want to do our part to help it carry on."

"We feel it's the least we can do to let everyone, especially the robot community, know that Philly isn't so bad, it's got some really great stuff going on and great people," Guthrie wrote on the Hacktory's website. "But seriously, we would recommend avoiding the scene in Old City on the weekend evenings ... not a good one for bots or anyone who's not looking for a drunken brawl."

During its short trek, HitchBot became a celebrity in its own right, garnering a sizable following on Instagram and Twitter. It even inspired third- and fourth-grade classes in Ottawa, Canada, to build a Hitchbot Jr. to learn about walking patterns in the students' neighborhoods.

On Monday afternoon, Twitter users claimed to have tracked down security footage of the assailant and posted it online. This footage has since been debunked as a fake.

With any luck, the trip through Philadelphia won't deter the HitchBot team from rebuilding and getting back on the road.

Rest in peace, HitchBot.

h/t The Verge

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Max Plenke

Max Plenke is a staff writer at Mic, where he covers breaking news, climate science, health and the future. His work has appeared in Esquire, GQ and Wallpaper. Send story tips to max@mic.com.

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