HitchBOT’s Journey Across the U.S. Abruptly Ends in Philadelphia
HitchBOT’s journey across the U.S. is over.
Late on Saturday night, the hitchhiking robot, who was attempting to trek from Massachusetts to San Francisco while crossing various tourist attractions off a bucket list, was damaged beyond repair by vandals in Philadelphia.
“We were absolutely taken aback,” says Dr. Frauke Zeller from Ryerson University in Toronto, who co-designed hitchBOT with Dr. David Harris Smith from McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. “We didn’t expect it because it’s been going so well.”
After a send-off party at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, hitchBOT began its journey in Marblehead on July 17. Since then, the robot has been sighted along the East Coast, in Gloucester, Boston, Providence, and New York City.
While it was in Massachusetts, strangers took hitchBOT to a Red Sox game in Fenway Park, to see the “Make Way for Ducklings” statues in the Public Garden, and even out on a boat trip in the Atlantic.
On Saturday evening, the robot picnicked with a family in Philadelphia before being picked up by YouTube personalities Jesse Wellens and Ed Bassmaster. After spending some time with hitchBOT, the two dropped it off on Elfreth’s Alley, the oldest residential street in the nation, to be picked up by someone else and continue its journey westward.
Shortly after, Zeller and Harris Smith’s team was contacted by one of hitchBOT’s social media followers, who had found the robot with its arms and legs torn off, missing its head, and stripped of all electronics.
“Not a single wire is left,” says Zeller.
While the team is making arrangements to ship hitchBOT’s remaining parts to Canada, many people have been reaching out to offer condolences, support, and donations to help rebuild the robot.
“We can see from the huge outpouring of indignation and sadness on social media that people were really hoping for this act of imagination to continue in some way,” says Harris Smith. “A lot of people were disappointed that the adventure is over for now and that they won’t get to participate.”
The team expresses no interest in pressing charges or tracking down the vandals.
“This really could’ve happened anywhere. We don’t think it’s attached to any country, any region, any city,” says Zeller. “Sometimes people might have issues—it might not even have anything to do with the robot itself.”
Although Zeller and Harris Smith plan on taking some time before deciding what to do next, taking into consideration team availability and funding issues, rebuilding the robot remains a possibility.
“We certainly are really appreciative of hitchBOT’s fans and the people that did take such good care of hitchBOT,” says Harris Smith. “It’s really a consolation to the development team to see the kind of outpouring of positive reaction and encouragement. Our answer to the question ‘Can robots trust humans?’—we still say mostly yes.”