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HitchBOT Gets Mugged in 'City of Brotherly Love' En Route to San Francisco

The little robot's stated goal: To see whether robots could trust humans.

Sometimes bad things happen to good robots.

A child-sized robot called HitchBOT saw its hitchhiking journey across the United States come to an abrupt end in the city of Philadelphia, just two weeks into its travels. The robot, with its endearing LED smiley face, rotund bucket-shaped body and blue foam appendages, was vandalized Saturday in the City of Brotherly Love. The Canadian researchers who created HitchBOT as a social experiment told the Associated Press that it had been damaged beyond repair.

Canadian journalist Lauren O’Neil posted a photo after the robot’s apparent mugging:

The diminutive robot had thumbed its way across Canada last summer in less than four weeks, hitching rides with strangers. Though HitchBOT wasn’t capable of independent motion (the limitations of foam legs), it could nonetheless see and converse with humans, thanks to Cleverscript speech technology and audio/visual hardware. It had a sense of place, thanks to its built-in wireless network. It also had made safe treks through Germany and the Netherlands.

HitchBOT’s embarked on its latest adventure on July 16 at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., aiming for the Exploratorium in San Francisco as its final destination. Its creators, professors Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University in Toronto, and David Harris Smith of McMaster University in Ontario, had hoped that the three-foot-tall, 25-pound robot would reach such tourist destinations as Times Square in New York City, Millennium Park in Illinois, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

An update to HitchBOT’s Twitter feed and Facebook page reported that it had been “badly damaged,” and its trip had been cut short:

The news provoked outrage on social media, with writers condemning the seemingly senseless act of violence:

HitchBOT is the collaborative brainchild of a team of specialists in the fields of visual arts, engineering, computer science and communication. Its stated goal: To see whether robots could trust humans.

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