hitchbot

The hitchBOT super fan and mourner who made a funeral pilgrimage

Rhode Island marketing professional Kyle Silva is trying to put into words why so many people are so worked up about a pile of parts on an Old City street.

The weekend decapitation of the Canadian social experiment hitchBOT is trending on Facebook and Twitter, turning into an allegory for the world’s feelings about Philadelphia (they threw snowballs at Santa, etc.), with the extinction of the ‘bot the latest vessel for the city’s legendary behavior.

“There’s some type of emotional attachment. I had that 24 hours with hitchBOT and I never thought I would see it again,” he said. “But I did see it. And I saw its demise.”

When hitchBOT was picked up from Philadelphia where this man was video-taped smashing it and drop-kicking it, the robot was taken to Rhode Island, not far from East Providence where Silva lives and works. Silva had previously spent 24 hours with the robot, showing it around Rhode Island, taking its picture in the backyard with his dog, and handing it off to the next person in line.

But what Silva saw last night, when he visited with the person who picked up hitchBOT, was a decapitated robot friend. One of his human friends cried. Silva said he saw the humor in the situation, but still felt hurt.

HitchBOT was created by Canadian developers and was meant to serve as a social experiment in trust and technology. Creators wanted to get the robot to hitchhike from Canada to San Francisco, but after making just a few stops in Boston, Providence and New York, the experiment ended in Philly.

Two vloggers in Philly, Ed Bassmaster and Jesse Wellens, were the last two to see hitchBOT alive. Now, the robot is probably going to be rehabbed by the team that created him, but they’ve said they won’t be filing a police report or looking to press charges against the person filmed destroying the robot.

Meanwhile, hitchBOT super fans like Silva and others are picking up from what was a maddening series of events that ended with the death of hitchBOT. Silva said he first became interested in the project a few weeks ago and he began connecting with other hitchBOT fans on Twitter.

Silva is well-versed in geo-caching, a practice that includes network of small containers or objects that have GPS technology attached to them. Others involved in geo-caching then look for the object. Inside are usually small trinkets meant for trading, but the goal is get people to see and visit new places they never would have before.

It’s similar to hitchBOT, Silva says, because both geocaching and hitchBOT allow people to be a part of something bigger. There’s a social aspect, where participants can meet with other people interested. But mostly, they can see and experience new places by driving the robot around.

So last week, Silva made the trip to Boston from Providence and picked up hitchBOT. He drove him around Rhode Island, showed the little robot what his equally small state looked like, and then took him home. When he was taking photos with hitchBOT and his dog in the backyard, a family pulled up: They were from Greenwich, Conn. and had made a nearly three-hour drive to come see the robot because they’d been following its GPS tracker online.

“Thank God it wasn’t a psychopath,” he said, “it was just like a nice family.”

From there, Silva spent a few more hours with hitchBOT — once having to move him outside in the middle of the night because the damn thing was beeping while he was trying to sleep — and the next day drove to Connecticut to take hitchBOT to its next driver. HitchBOT then went to New York City, and another fan took him to Philadelphia. You know what happened next.

But don’t worry, Philly. The hitchBOT community knows it’s not completely and entirely our fault.

“If I left it in Providence in a sketchy area at 4 in the morning,” Silva said, “the same thing would have happened.”

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