— hitchBOT (@hitchBOT) August 1, 2015
The 2015 HitchBOT saga is over – or at least the original hitchhiking robot’s journey has formally ended for now. The anthropomorphic robot equipped with cameras, microphones, speakers and external battery chargers had set out in July to cross the United States — and conduct a kind of social experiment — asking people to take it with them, but was briefly stopped by vandals in Philadelphia on Saturday.
Not content with its “brotherly love” reputation tarnished, some robo-minded citizens at Philadelphia’s Hacker/Maker Space, The Hacktory, responded by offering to rebuild or repair HitchBOT and perform the miracle with send yellow gloves. On Wednesday, the bot’s co-creators at Ryerson University in Toronto responded with a polite but firm refusal.
“We appreciate your support,” HitchBOT’s team told The Hacktory in an email exchange shared with Ars Technica. “Unfortunately, according to the images we received, we believe that HitchBOT is damaged beyond repair. As such, there would be no starting point to build a new bot. We have therefore arranged the remaining parts [discovered by HitchBOT fans] be returned to us.”
Following that conversation, Ryerson University spokesperson Johanna VanderMaas issued a press release confirming that HitchBOT’s journey was finally over and that alleged security camera footage of its demise turned out to be fraudulent. VanderMaas teased tentative plans to rebuild HitchBOT and go on one of two journeys in 2016: either a recreation of the original, surviving American trail from Philadelphia to San Francisco, or a “school-to-school” trail that American students would ask to “create robot adventures” at every stop. The press release also noted the social experimental nature of HitchBOT’s journey, noting that its destruction was met by a “deluge” of fans asking for financial and technical support.
“Although things ended badly for HitchBOT, we learned a lot about human empathy and trust,” said Dr. David Harris Smith, assistant professor of McMaster University in the statement. “Everything we’ve learned will be confirmed in the resulting research and used in future planning for HitchBOT’s adventures.”
That hasn’t stopped The Hacktory from moving forward with an alternative plan (with the official blessing of Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, no less). “This is our time to show the world how great Philly is, how much talent we have here, and break this curse of bad reputation!” wrote the group on an announcement page for their HitchBOT mini-hackathon on Thursday, August 6. Rather than build a replica of HitchBOT, the event will have a looser objective of “creative and fun responses to this series of events,” and the announcement page will include requests for specific skills and parts. While that list reads like the kind of stuff you’d put in a HitchBOT replacement, we’ll have to wait and see what Philly’s craziest hackers come up with by Thursday’s end.