Jul 132015

hitchbotIf you’ve driven a vehicle for enough years or miles, then you’ve seen all kinds of hitchhikers. Young, old, attractive and scarey. One thing they had in common was that they were all human. But setting off across America soon will be hitch-Bot, a robot hitching its way across America (he made it through Canada last year). And the launch party will be on Thursday, July 16, 6-9pm at our own Peabody Essex Museum during PEM/PM, the museum’s monthly evening party series.

In celebration of the season, the theme for July is Take Back Summer, with an opportunity to rediscover classic and wild ways to have fun, while also taking advantage of after-hours access to museum exhibitions. And what better tie-in is a summer road-trip?

On Thursday, July 16, the party-going public will also hear from hitchBOT’s co-creators. The next day hitchBOT will bid them farewell on a nearby highway as it begins its adventure by putting up its thumb to ask for a ride. The final destination is the Exploratorium in San Francisco.

hitchBOT is an outgoing and charismatic robot that began hitchhiking in July 2014. In less than four weeks, hitchBOT charmed its way into rides across Canada, depending on the help of kind strangers. hitchBOT cannot move by itself — except for its hitchhiking thumb — but can converse thanks to Cleverscript speech technology, which allows it to answer questions about where it comes from or its favorite pastimes.

hitchBOT’s family consists of a collaborative, interdisciplinary team of researchers from the fields of visual arts, engineering, computer science and communication. The project was originally co-designed by Dr. David Harris Smith, assistant professor in the Department of Communication Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University (Hamilton), and Dr. Frauke Zeller, assistant professor in the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University (Toronto), to see whether robots could trust humans.

People picked HB up and took it to bars, diners, concerts and then left it on the side of the road for someone else to take it further on down the road.

For example, hitchBOT hung out with the British Columbia rock band The Wild, which took it to their next performance. Another time it was taken to a wedding.

No one broke it, defaced it or stole it.

“hitchBOT was very well received as it made its way across Canada, Germany and the Netherlands – proving that robots can indeed trust humans,” said Dr. Zeller. “Given that hitchBOT is built out of a bucket, we thought it would be only natural if we let it have a bucket list for this exciting new adventure.”

hitchbot bucket listThe list includes Times Square in New York City, Millennium Park in Chicago, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

In the PEM blog Connected, the creators commented “In the case of hitchBOT, we have launched a type of robotic proxy, set forth not to explore the surface of Mars, but to explore a cultural terrain here on earth that is underwritten by evolved human curiosity, empathy and altruism. hitchBOT literally rides from place to place on a tide of goodwill, developing a personal history of face-to-face interpersonal interactions and a trail of social media participation. ”

Fans are encouraged to follow hitchBOT’s journey at hitchbot.me, and on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. hitchBOT also invites users to share their hitchhiking stories and pictures using #hitchbot on Twitter and Instagram.

PEM’s evening parties, with music and dance performances, lectures and art-making stations take place on the 3rd Thursday of the month. Admission is free to PEM members and Salem residents (with ID), while nonmembers pay $10 at the door. There will be a cash bar and special small plates menu items available courtesy of the Hawthorne Hotel.

(Cover photo courtesy David Harris Smith)


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