After an international adventure that included spending a week with a heavy metal band, cruising through the canals of Amsterdam and participating in a wave at a Boston Red Sox game, a hitchhiking robot met a brutal demise in a Philadelphia alley on Saturday. It was 1 year old.
With yellow boots, blue limbs and “San Francisco or Bust” written around its chin, the robot, a.k.a. hitchBOT, was left by its creators near a highway in Salem, Mass., on July 17, hoping the kindness of strangers would see it safely to its West Coast destination.
The creators, David Harris Smith and Frauke Zeller, two Canadian professors, said they had built the robot as “an artwork and social robotics experiment” and had successfully sent it across Canada, Germany and the Netherlands. Short and stocky, with a bucket for a body and the red LED lights of its face enclosed in plastic, the brightly colored bot would be difficult to miss.
Over its two weeks in the United States, hitchBOT made its way from Boston to New York — stopping to take photos in Times Square — and to Philadelphia. It made light, automated conversation and took photos of its surroundings about every 20 minutes, documenting its travels on its popular Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts.
It had brief instructions written on its back to help the travelers who would guide it through its American bucket list, which included listening to jazz in New Orleans and being the fifth face in a photo of Mount Rushmore. But its creators said the robot’s journey was cut short by vandals — it was found early Saturday beaten and dismembered in Philadelphia’s historic Old City neighborhood.
A video blogger, Jesse Wellens, found the robot on the steps of Philadelphia’s art museum and documented their brief night together in a video posted to YouTube.
“HitchBOT, do you need a seatbelt?” Mr. Wellens asked as he loaded it into a car.
“Yes,” hitchBOT responded, to Mr. Wellens’s surprise.
Mr. Wellens considered paying a taxi $350 to drive the robot to Washington, D.C., before leaving it on a bench, as the robot’s instructions suggested. It was the last known time someone would interact with it.
Mr. Wellens said he had obtained surveillance video that appeared to show someone in a football jersey throwing the robot’s arms on the ground before kicking something on the bench. The video’s contents could not be independently confirmed.
HitchBot surveillance video.
Video by YNGKillers
The creators were sent a photo of the vandalized robot but said they did not know who destroyed it or why, according to The Associated Press. They said they would not press charges or attempt to find the vandal.
“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,” the professors said in a statement. “For now, we will focus on the question: ‘What can be learned from this?’ and explore future adventures for robots and humans.”
The vandalism sparked disappointment on social media. Several people in the local tech community offered to fix the battered bot. Philadelphians were wary that the episode would reflect badly on the city. Others worried that it would reflect badly on all Americans.
But the bot itself carried a more positive tone on Twitter. Its creators said more information on its future could come on Wednesday.