The hitchhiking robot′s guide to Germany | Science| In-depth reporting on science and technology | DW | 18.02.2015
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The hitchhiking robot's guide to Germany

A hitchhiking Canadian robot is endearing itself to Germans on a tour that includes a stop at the Social Media Week in Hamburg. The robot relies on the kindness of strangers (and their cars) to get around.

The world's most famous (and perhaps only) hitchhiking robot is making its way through Germany visiting cities suchas Berlin and Munich with plenty of help from the humans it meets along the road. The hitchBOT arrived in Hamburg for the Social Media Week starting on February 23. All along it has been snapping pictures, posting to social media and presumably downloading travel memories ever since.

The hitchBot has no way of moving on its own, so it relies on being picked up and driven around by the strangers it meets along the way. And that’s exactly the point.

The robot was intentionally designed this way - as part art project and part social experiment - by its co-creators: assistant university professors Dr. David Smith from McMaster University in Ontario and Dr. Frauke Zeller from Ryerson University in Toronto.

The robot isn’t very interesting from a technical standpoint, as Dr. Florian Rörhbein, a computer scientist at the Technical University of Munich, told news agency AFP in an interview. Its value however, should be seen from a sociological perspective. The immobile robot forces humans to become accustomed to interacting with machines and it may even reduce our fear of robots, which could be important in certain fields like health care.

Such human-robot bonding has apparently been taking place all across Germany. The hitchBOT turned up on a parade float in Cologne during the city’s Carnival celebrations on Monday. It visited the Neuschwanstein Castle on Valentine’s Day, made an appearance on German television program TV Total with Stefan Raab and it is being shadowed by a camera crew from German TV broadcaster ProSieben.

On Wednesday (18.02.2015) the hitchBOT made it to Berlin where it posed for pictures and met with members of the Canadian embassy in front of the Brandenburg Gate.

The robot weighs about eight kilograms, has rubber gloves for hands and swim-noodles for legs. And it needs to be recharged via solar panels and the electrical cigarette outlets in cars. However, it’s more high-tech than it looks. The robot is also equipped with a GPS device, posts to Twitter, Instagram and Facebook and can even talk, although its vocabulary in German is reportedly limited to two - albeit important - words: "Currywurst" and "Feierabend."

The hitchBOT is already well-traveled. Last summer it hitchhiked 6,000 kilometers across Canada in less than one month, attending a wedding, participating in a pow wow and doing the Harlem Shake along the way.

Next up on the hitchBOT's tour of Germany is an appearance at the Social Media Week conference in Hamburg, which begins February 23. What isn’t certain of course, is which stranger will be kind enough to offer the hitchhiking robot a ride.

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