Science Alive! Episode 7: Hitchbot!

Tom Everett, Hitchbot and Dave Schellenberg

Take a ride with Hitchbot on this edition of Science Alive! What would you do if you saw a smiling robot by the side of the road… a robot with a plastic bucket for a body, pool noodles for arms and legs, and big rubber boots? Created to learn about how people interact with technology and ask the question, “Can robots trust human beings?” Hitchbot crossed Canada and most of Germany and the Netherlands. It was two weeks into its trip across the United States when reports say it was destroyed by vandals in Philadelphia. So...how did it end up at a museum in Ottawa?

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the robot made of pool noodles of

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plastic gear bucket and wellington boots

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that travel across Canada pop in it's

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time to meet hitchbot on this edition of

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science alive I'm a tom everett he's a

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curator of communications at the canada

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science and technology museum so Tom

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what's sitting in the back seat a touch

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pot and why was it built so hitch bar

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was designed as a kind of part art

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project part social experiment to see if

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robots could trust humans right and

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what's it made out of so hitch bots made

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out of plastic white it's actually I

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believe a beer cooler kind of what you

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would use to make home brewing yeah

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something like that and yeah pool

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noodles for arms and legs the trademark

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wellington boots yeah and it's powered

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by a tablet computer that connects to

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the internet and wasn't hitchbot

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destroyed yeah well hitchbot was

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destroyed but not this hitchbot so this

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is the original canadian hitchbot right

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the hitchhiked across canada in 2014

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successfully and after the trip they

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retired hitchbot and another one was

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built that hitchhiked germany

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successfully and then was destroyed in

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Philadelphia and why was it created to

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begin with well the idea was to see if

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they built a robot with some artificial

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intelligence that new some social

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etiquette and could be entertaining and

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fun whether it could convince regular

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people to take it across Canada right

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and take it where I wanted to go and it

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was a success so if you saw it sitting

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by the side of the road and you picked

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up hitchbot you can chat with it yeah

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absolutely so hitchbot is always

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connected to the internet and has

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artificial intelligence software so it

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had certain questions that it it would

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anticipate that you would ask but it

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also could answer unanticipated

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questions using some online software it

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also would play games with you had jokes

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to tell things to to sort of break the

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ice right when chiltern where did they

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drop it off and how far did it get so

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hitchbot was originally dropped off in

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Halifax Nova Scotia in July 2014 and it

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made it all the way across Canada to

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Victoria British Columbia

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so people would just pick it up and take

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it as far as they wanted put it back at

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the side of the road right it's been on

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canoe trips it's been on ferry ride they

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spend the wedding's hung out with rock

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stars Olympians yeah and why did the

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Museum of Science and Technology want it

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well for us on you know it's what's got

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this great Canadian story developed at

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communion universities by Canadian

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researchers but it also it has this

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great canadian roadtrip story attached

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to it it involved it wasn't just a lab

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experiment right you know hits but hitch

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spot was placed at the side of the road

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and people just decided to take part

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pick it up so it's got this great story

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but it also speaks to a very specific

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historical moment I think you know the

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idea of human-computer interaction and

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the sort of bizarre hitchhiking

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experiment seems a bit weird now but I

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think in hindsight that will make a lot

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of sense as we become more invested in

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technologies that don't just do things

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for us but can communicate with us long

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but we are getting used to talking to

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our computers it's chewy out with the

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technologies like series a really

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popular example these personal digital

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assistants that have artificial

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intelligence that allow us to ask some

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questions making complete commands or

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make conversation with us are becoming

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more popular and hitchbot might seem a

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little bit weird or kooky now but I

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think in hindsight it'll make a lot of

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sense and it will be able to speak speak

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a lot to this particular moment tom

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everett a curator of communications at

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the canada science and technology museum

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tom thank you for telling us about it

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hey thanks for picking us up this was

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science alive

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