The question of who killed the hitchhiking robot HitchBOT has made headlines ever since the surveillance footage of an unidentified man destroying the robot surfaced on social media.
The man, who appears to be wearing an Eagles jersey, could be seen destroying the robot on a street in Philadelphia.
HitchBOT was merely two weeks into its U.S. road trip when it was picked up in Philadelphia by vlogger Jesse Wellens. Wellens shared a video of his encounter with HitchBOT before the robot was dropped off on Elfreth’s Alley, the country’s oldest residential street.
The surveillance video that shows a man kicking and stomping on the robot appeared on social media Monday, gathering widespread attention.
— . (@CODlENECRAZY) August 3, 2015
Prior to its U.S. road trip, HitchBOT had made cross-country trips across Canada, the Netherlands and Germany. While it had planned to travel nationwide, it could only survive for 300 miles before it was mercilessly killed.
‘Sometimes Bad Things Happen To Good Robots’
“HitchBOT’s trip came to an end last night in Philadelphia after having spent a little over two weeks hitchhiking and visiting sites in Boston, Salem, Gloucester, Marblehead, and New York City,” the hitchBOT family said on its website. “Unfortunately, hitchBOT was vandalized overnight in Philadelphia; sometimes bad things happen to good robots.”
— hitchBOT (@hitchBOT) August 1, 2015
Frauke Zeller, one of hitchBOT’s creators, said it was disappointing for the family. The robot constituted of a GPS, a movable arm, Wellington boots and gardening gloves. Researchers from Ontario’s McMaster and Ryerson universities help put together the robot.
“It was quite a setback, and we didn’t really expect it,” Zeller said, as reported by CNN. “We were spoiled by the kindness of other people who had looked after hitchBOT.”
HitchBOT was picked up by Wellens and friend Ed Bassmaster Friday night, who put it in the backseat of their pickup truck, and drove the robot to the oldest street in Philadelphia.
— Jesse (@Jessewelle) August 1, 2015
There, they hailed a taxi and were ready to pay the $350 fare for the robot’s trip to Washington D.C. They left HitchBOT at the end of Elfreth’s Alley during the early hours of Saturday.
‘I’m Surprised By How Upset I Actually Am’
“I’m surprised by how upset I actually am,” Zeller said.
“I didn’t expect it,” he spoke of the robot’s remains. “I think that image that’s circulated now on social media of vandalized HitchBOT is quite upsetting.”
HitchBOT was a social experiment to test human psychology through the means of technology.
“HitchBOT was designed as a social robot with a personality and all the classic elements of drama, so it had a quest, and that quest was fraught with obvious dangers,” creator David Harris Smith.
Harris and Zeller said that the robot was “both an artwork and social robotics experiment,” as reported by The Atlantic.
“Usually, we are concerned whether we can trust robots, e.g. as helpers in our homes. But this project takes it the other way around and asks: can robots trust human beings?” they said.
A spokesperson for the project said the family is expecting to receive the remains of the robot sometime this week.
“We have no interest in pressing charges or finding the people who vandalized hitchBOT; we wish to remember the good times, and we encourage hitchBOT’s friends and fans to do the same,” the family said in a statement.
“This great experiment is not over,” they said.
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