hitchBOT makes its way across Canada

A hitch-hiking robot is making its way from Halifax, Nova Scotia to Victoria, British Columbia.

hitchBOT is a robotics project run by Dr. David Harris Smith and his team from McMaster University. The robot began a coast-to-coast trip across Canada on Sunday July 27th and is seeking the aid of helpful motorists. The trip began in Halifax, Nova Scotia and will end at Victoria, British Columbia.

The project is a joint venture between the Institute for Applied Creativity and the Anna Leonowens Gallery. McMaster University, Ryerson University, the University of Toronto and the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design all have team members working on the project and tracking the bot across Canada.


Central to the project is the question of whether robots can trust human beings. This is a social experiment as much as an engineering project. The robot was constructed with cheap materials so that citizens will not be tempted to steal components.

Pool noodles, rain boots, a bucket and some gloves are the materials that make up the robot. The head is the most sophisticated mechanism, built from a cake saver, LED screens, plastic bearings, motors and a mirror.

Watching the video for the first time hitchBOT’s communication algorithm reminded me of Cleverbot. The construct is able to take in audio signals, process them and give an output. Wireless networking capabilities, an LED screen, audio and video capture, batteries and alternate energy sources are also included.

The team has concluded that they “expect hitchBOT to be charming and trustworthy enough in its conversation to secure rides through Canada.” The project has a heavy social media presence with accounts on facebook, twitter, instagram and a webpage.

hitchBOT has a great deal of engineering and programming behind the facade of being a happy robot trying to take a beatnik road trip. The technical details aren’t readily available through the project’s website or social media outlets but a few programming photos show that there’s a sophistication behind the LED smiley face.

Tracking the project will be interesting, as of this writing the robot is near Dalhousie, New Brunswick. Google maps tells me that this is a distance of 5752.7 kilometers from Victoria. The project doesn’t show a targeted end date so progress will include distance but also time components.