Robot goes hitchhiking to see if it can trust humans

This article is more than 12 months old

A talking robot assembled from household odds and ends is hitchhiking thousands of kilometres across Canada this summer.

It is part of a social experiment to see if those of its kind can trust humans.

Society is "usually concerned with whether we can trust robots," Dr Frauke Zeller, co-creator of the "hitchBot," told AFP.

Hollywood movies like The Terminator and The Matrix often depict machines as enemies of mankind, said the assistant professor at Toronto's Ryerson University.

But it is the opposite with hitchBot, she noted.

Said Dr Zeller: "This project turns our fear of technology on its head and asks, 'Can robots trust humans?'

"Our aim is to further discussion in society about our relationship with technology and robots, and notions of safety and trust."

Dr Zeller and Professor David Smith of McMaster University, along with a team of specialists, designed hitchBot to be fully dependent on people.

She said: "It cannot achieve its task of hitchhiking across Canada without the help of people, because it cannot move by itself."

And hitchBot certainly has what it takes to charm its way into people's hearts.

It can strike up a conversation and answer trivia questions by using its built-in computers.

It will even tell you when it's tired and in need of recharging.

The robot has what has been described by Canadian media as a "yard-sale aesthetic", built for about C$1,000 (S$1,140) from parts found in a typical Canadian home or hardware store.

It began its trip on July 27 in Halifax, after being picked up by an elderly couple in a camper van.

They handed it off after a night in the Canadian outback to three men from Quebec.

It is headed for Victoria - more than 6,000km from its starting point.