What’s On

#sowhoknew: Bad things happen to good robots…

The Terminator movies would have you believe that humankind should be very afraid of robots. But given the sad demise of hitchBOT, found beheaded and decapitated in a Philadelphia ditch this week, maybe robots should be more scared of us…

hitchBOT was a social experiment of sorts, the brainchild of Toronto’s Ryerson University. The initial premise was very simple. hitchBOT would tour the world using the generosity of mankind. It couldn’t move around independently and hence needed a helping hand from the carbon based lifeforms that inhabit this planet. Although hitchBOT was festooned with a dazzling array of electronic wizardry including GPS, a high resolution digital camera, the ability to post on Twitter/ Facebook and with a built-in voice decoder/ recorder, the rest of the machine was distinctly low tech – his body was merely a bucket, his head was a cake saver, he had garden glove hands and wellies for feet. Purposely cute I guess, to encourage people to take him on his expedition.


And initially the friendly hitchhiking robot did rather well. It made it all the way across Germany, the Netherlands and Canada with barely a scratch. Its odyssey was tracked enthusiastically by kids and geeks across the globe who were enthralled by its epic journey which included bizarre appearances at a glitzy wedding and a comic book convention. Unfortunately though, his trek across the U.S was somewhat short lived. Despite a promising start attending a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston and being photographed in Times Square New York, hitchBOT met his untimely demise in Philadelphia (the ironically named City of Brotherly Love) last weekend. Dismembered, decapitated and dumped in a ditch. Domo arigato Mr Roboto (sorry – I couldn’t resist squeezing in a quick Styx classic).

And then, as if to add insult to injury, some (so called) pranksters claimed to have security camera footage of the moment that hitchBOT shrugged off his ‘electric’ coil. But it transpires that two local Philly vloggers had actually faked the video to encourage further social discussion on whether the ‘death’ of hitchBOT was an act of simple vandalism or an expression of Robotophobia. Either way it’s clear that bad things happen to good robots.

There are various campaigns underway to resurrect the unfortunate android. The City of Philadelphia (unsurprisingly) has lead the way with offers from various tech companies to raise hitchBOT, Lazarus-like from the dead. At the same time a Kickstarter campaign has been started to crowdsource funding to rebuild it. Hmm. Somehow I cant help thinking of the opening sequence to that classic 70’s show the The Six Million Dollar Man…

“We can rebuild it. We have the technology. We have the capability to make the world’s first bionic hitchhiking robot. hitchBOT will be just that. Much more than it was before. Better. Stronger. Faster”

Though maybe next time with a titanium exoskeleton and some form of weaponry system? Either way one thing is for sure… hitchBOT, just like The Terminator… will be back.


Steve Blakeman

Steve Blakeman is the Global Media Lead - Nestlé at Mindshare. Previously, he was the Managing Director - Global Accounts, OMD Europe. Previously, he was the CEO, Asia Pacific – OMD. Prior to that, he was Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). He has also had stints as worked as Managing Partner at Omnicom Media Group owned media agency, PHD where he successfully launched their second office in the UK. He began his career at JWT and has over two decades of experience in advertising, media and marketing communications.