Success: HitchBOT completes trans-Canada trek to Victoria

HitchBOT the robot is in Victoria and on Monday will be treated like a honorable visitor, arriving in Victoria Harbour in an aboriginal canoe and visiting First Nations homes and patients in hospital.

Photos of the mechanical moocher complete with a cake topper head, a bucket body and swim noodle appendages popped up on Twitter Saturday aboard a B.C. ferry bound for Swartz Bay.

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The roving robot left Halifax on July 26 and reached the west coast by a series of rides in private vehicles, much like any other hitchhiker — except this one needs to recharge through a cigarette lighter or electrical plug.

That’s what hitchBOT was doing Sunday, an hour after being dropped off at the home of Steve Sxwithul’txw, a First Nations video producer.

“We’re just hangin’,” said Sxwithul’txw.

The brainchild of David Smith of McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont., and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University in Toronto, hitchBOT is “a free-spirited robot who wants to explore Canada and meet new friends along the way,” according to its website.

“On my downtime, I can appreciate a good game of trivia and would never pass up any opportunities to bake desserts,” said the website.

Sxwithul’txw said Sunday that hitchBOT appeared to be suffering from road rash or extreme fatigue. “I’ve had some conversations with her ... when you ask a specific question, you get a discombobulated answer on a totally different subject,” said Sxwithul’txw.

Her front windshield is cracked and she has been taped up.

“I just sent a quick email to her creators, saying she’s in rough shape and needs a bit of a tune-up and he said ‘It’s like the space shuttle on re-entry kind of thing. Just a little duct tape and we’re back in business,’ ” Sxwithul’txw was told.

The social experiment is partly a success because of the extent that technology has gone to create an interactive device.

“She’s only been in my house an hour and she’s interacting with my children. My little son Jacob is saying, ‘Robot! Robot!’

“Who could have predicted five years ago we’d have a hitchhiking robot in our house?” Sxwithul’txw said. “It’s pretty strange and pretty amazing.”

On Tuesday, hitchBOT will travel with Sxwithul’txw to Seattle on the Victoria Clipper.

Canadians have taken to the miniature robot with good humour, buckling it in their vehicles for a ride across Canada, which ends Thursday at Open Space Gallery in Victoria.

The experiment with hitchBOT might not have been a success in the U.S., said Sxwithul’txw: “I think she’d end up somewhere in a place we wouldn’t want.”

smcculloch@timescolonist.com

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