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HitchBOT creators offered help to rebuild hitchhiking robot

08/03/2015 10:27 EDT | Updated 08/03/2016 05:59 EDT
Offers are pouring in to help rebuild hitchBOT, a Canadian hitchhiking robot dismembered during a journey across the U.S.

Vandals damaged HitchBot beyond repair in Philadelphia on Saturday. Images were sent to its creators, communications researchers David Harris Smith of McMaster University and Frauke Zeller of Ryerson University.

"We're just surprised and shocked, to be honest," Zeller told CBC News Network in an interview today.

She added that hitchBOT's U.S. journey, which started in Marblehead, Mass., two weeks ago had been going well at first.

"HitchBOT received such a warm welcome and people went out of their way to help it. We didn't really expect this to happen at all."

The child-sized robot was hitchhiking to San Francisco as part of a social experiment and collaborative art project, following successful ventures in Canada last year and parts of Europe. Strangers help hitchBOT travel from place to place while checking items off its bucket list. 

This time, hitchBOT was dismembered before it could complete its goals — which this time included taking a selfie with the Hollywood sign and seeing the house from the Pixar movie Up.

- PHOTOS | HitchBOT completes journey across Canada

The goal was to give people a chance to interact freely with the robot to explore questions about human culture and our attitudes toward each other and strangers, Smith said.

"So you, I would say: Mission accomplished," Smith said. "But not quite the outcome that we had hoped for."

Many offers of help from U.S.

Since the robot's tragic end, Smith said the team has been flooded with positive words of encouragement, expressions of grief, and offers to help rebuild the robot.

The offers are coming from friends and fans around the world, said Brigitte Dreger-Smylie, project manager for hitchBOT, "though many offers have come from our friends in the U.S., who are saddened by the news this happened in their country."

Mostly, the offers are from strangers who heard about the project on the news or were following hitchBOT's journey through social media or its website, she added in an email.

When asked if the project is now dead, Zeller responded, "I wouldn't say it is dead."

It has collected a lot of data that needs to be analyzed, she added. But she wouldn't say whether the robot would be rebuilt.

"We're still shaken by what happened," she said. "So we have to sit down now and see what can be done next… we will make a decision in due course, but it is too early to really say for now."

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