PHILADELPHIA (CN) – The dismemberment of a robot in the City of Brotherly Love has left Philadelphia grappling with an existential crisis, but professors in Canada awaiting the return of their mutilated creation urged fans to “remember the good times.”
Powered by an Android tablet, HitchBOT and his opposable thumb met an untimely fate on July 1, just two weeks into a journey conceived by a pair of two professors on media and communications from Canada.
Dropped off in Marblehead, Mass., after successful romps through Europe and Canada, hitchBOT was designed to rely on a microphone and speaker system, plus 3G and GPS capabilities, to make his way across the country, hitting landmarks and faithfully updating a Twitter account on the road to San Francisco.
After catching a Red Sox game in Boston, the bot found himself late Friday night in the historical and well-traveled Old City section of Philadelphia.
Video bloggers Jesse Wellens and Ed Bassmaster reportedly picked up the bot near the Philadelphia Art Museum – where Rocky famously trained on the museum steps – and tried to hail him a cab to Washington, D.C.
Unhappy with the price the cabbie quoted for such a fare, the bloggers dropped hitchBOT off downtown and posted the location to his Twitter page.
“It was then that hitchBOT fell into the wrong hands and was unfortunately destroyed,” a press release released Wednesday from the robot’s co-creators states.
He was found on a bench hours later with his head, arms and legs ripped off.
Wellens and Bassmaster, who may have been the last ones to see the robot alive, later made a YouTube video chronicling the experience.
With the bot’s beheading causing a buzz on social media, his creators, Ryerson University assistant professor Frauke Zeller and McMaster University assistant professor David Harris Smith, said they have “no interest in pressing charges or in finding the people who vandalized the robot.”
“They wish to remember the good times, and encourage hitchBOT’s friends and fans to do the same,” the professors said in a statement.
Wellens and Bassmaster have since copped to disseminating a bogus surveillance video that surfaced Monday of hitchBOT’s supposed dismemberment at the hands of Eagles jersey-wearing brutes.
Despite their history of YouTube pranks, Wellens has reported maintained that his distress over hitchBOT’s death is genuine. “Thanks Philly!” he posted to Twitter this week. “You freaking Killed @hitchBOT I’m so mad right now…..of course Killadelphia Kills the robot!”
HitchBOT, whose tagline spoke to his reliance on “the kindness of strangers,” was conceived as a social experiment.
“As researchers, we wanted to know, ‘can robots trust humans?’ and knew there would always be the possibility that hitchBOT would be damaged or stolen,” Dr. Smith said in a statement Wednesday. “Even though it did end badly for hitchBOT, we’ve learned a lot about human empathy and trust – everything we’ve learned will be borne out in the resulting research and used in future planning for hitchBOT’s adventures.”
At least in Philadelphia, the answer to that question was a resounding “no.”
“I just think someone saw it, probably came out of a bar and was drunk and beat the crap out of it,” Philadelphia Police Detective Joe Murray told the Philadelphia Daily News, according to an article on philly.com. “Leaving it in Old City on a Saturday night is probably the worst idea ever.”
In a city sometimes known for its lack of hospitability or outright hostility towards opposing sports fans and players, hitchBOT’s decapitation was seen by some as just another example of residents of the “City of Brotherly Love” showing its visitors anything but.
The incident served as fodder for numerous jokes in news stories, TV reports and social media posts reminiscing about the time Philadelphians threw snowballs at Santa Claus during an Eagles game, or wondering if hitchBOT had been a fan of the rival Dallas Cowboys.
Many locals rushed to fight against their city’s bad reputation by throwing themselves into volunteer efforts to resurrect the robot.
Philadelphia-area resident Nick Green started a campaign on the fundraising website Kickstarter looking to scrape together $1,200 for replacement parts to make the robot whole again.
As of press time, the campaign had been canceled, but not before it far exceeded its goal by raising $4,700.
Smith and Zelker say they have “not started or committed to any crowd-funding campaigns,” but are mulling potential future plans for hitchBOT, including donating it to students or rebuilding it and sending it back to Philadelphia to pick up where it left off in 2016.
“My trip must come to an end for now, but my love for humans will never fade,” hitchBOT tweeted on Saturday in his weakened state. “Sometimes bad things happen to good robots.”
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