Robo Hobo Bamboozles Passers-By

Robots are increasingly seeing the world outside of laboratories and factories, and most of us think we would be able to spot one relatively quickly. What if you walked past one on the street — would you recognize it for what it was? How long would it take for you to realize that homeless organ grinder was a robot?

The brainchild of [Fred Ables], Dirk the homeless robot will meander through a crowd, nodding at passers-by and occasionally — with a tilt of his hand — ask for change, churning out a few notes on his organ for those who oblige him. [Ables] controls Dirk’s interactions with others remotely from nearby, blending into the crowds that flock to see the lifelike automaton, selling the illusion that Dirk is a real human. This is often effective since — as with most homeless people — pedestrians won’t spare Dirk a second glance; the reactions of those who don’t pass him over range from confusion to anger or mirth over being so completely duped before looking for the puppeteer.

Tripling as a feat of engineering, a social commentary on homelessness, and an interactive puppet show, [Ables] causes us to pause on the issue of homelessness and human-robot interaction. For a more whimsical interaction, a robot ball that follows you around is a pleasant way to get used to the presence of robots in society.

[via setvir and Electric Circus]

28 thoughts on “Robo Hobo Bamboozles Passers-By

    1. perhaps his entire point was to see how people react, or even illustrate how such a robot would pass for “the real deal” much easier than say a drum playing marching soldier, there are limits to how hard we look at a hobo or so it would seem.

      1. From the Wikipedia article on Robots:
        “There is no consensus on which machines qualify as robots but there is general agreement among experts, and the public, that robots tend to possess some or all of the following abilities and functions: accept electronic programming, process data or physical perceptions electronically, operate autonomously to some degree, move around, operate physical parts of itself or physical processes, sense and manipulate their environment, and exhibit intelligent behavior — especially behavior which mimics humans or other animals.”

        From this I would conclude that puppets, even electronic puppets do not qualify as robots. They may move around using electric motors and mimic humans, but there is more to being a robot than just that.

  1. I’ve had the good fortune to have seen this creation in action at the BoomTown (UK) Festival, 2015, Last year.

    It’s really quite something to behold! As much as I knew there had to be someone controlling the thing somewhere, the creator / animator did quite well to avoid me spotting them!

    Very well put together performance!

  2. Unfortunately, the security and safety part of me sees this as a great way to draw a crowd and blow them up as ISIS would love to do. Suicide bomber with no suicide. Sad that my thoughts go immediately there now.

  3. What would your automaton do if I offered him some Mad Dog 20/20? I assure you that here in America I’d get a better reaction to my ridiculous ethanol charity than offering actual shelter, food, or mental healthcare. American homelessness is pretty much the vagaries of substance abuse, mental health, and a misguided free will to do this stuff voluntarily. Our US infrastructure is set up to help these people but they just don’t want it. In Montreal CANADA they resolve the problem by hiding them on the Isle of Man nearby. We can’t force them into shelters if they don’t cooperate.And many of them are now resorting to fake panhandling with WILL WORK FOR FOOD signs. No they wont. Watch them when they walk back to their car parked around the corner. You can terrify them with the comment: “Dude! I just saw the police towing your car!” Watch them run away from their fake crutches. The problem here in America is NOT at epidemic proportions. It is artificial and contrived.

    If you ever find a REAL one then they will undoubtedly accept your help and get to a shelter. But that is rare. They all are aware of the infrastructure but just can’t conform due to their mental health or selfish desires to con people.

    1. I’ve lived on the street, and those fakers who panhandle and then go back to their car to drive home often find their tires flat if they do it very often in the same place, as the local real homeless folks don’t take too kindly to that sort of thing. So I understand your frustration, but the vast, vast majority of folks panhandling don’t have a car or a home to go to. It takes a certain kind of shamelessness to beg, knowing it invites degradation from folks with attitudes like yours, if you don’t have to.

      As for infrastructure, well, there are good shelters and there are bad shelters. The bad ones can be really, really bad. The good ones are always full. And even the best ones are still not very nice places to be. So try to understand when folks “just don’t want it.” And that’s in places that have shelters, many places don’t.

      The “ethanol charity” sentiment is, sadly, fairly accurate. I’d say at least half of homeless folks are alcoholics and/or substance abusers, but that hardly merits your scorn. We all have our failings, theirs just came to a head and now they’re out on the street and would rather drink than live under a roof. Such is addiction. And I’ve met a handful of panhandlers who wouldn’t actually work for food or anything else because they made too much money panhandling, but for every one of those I’ve met 10 who actually work at every opportunity but don’t have ID or have a criminal record and thus just don’t have many opportunities.

      Mental illness is even sadder, and even less reason for scorn than addiction.

      Finally, what’s so misguided about free will? What’s so great about conformity? Is not the US a country built by iconoclasts who wouldn’t do it the King’s way? The small percentage of non-addicted, non-mentally ill vagrants who just prefer a nomadic existence, well, just ’cause that lifestyle doesn’t suit you, why sneer and act holier than? That penniless, smelly slightly-less-than-human specimen sitting in the dirt just might be the next Buddha or Christ. What you do unto the least of mine, and all that…

      1. MoTLD – I’m sorry if I came off scornful. That was not my intention. However, I met a homeless US NAVY man living in the woods with state of the art survival equipment. He travels by public transit and eats at Home Town Buffet. My sister-in-law interviewed him once and he admitted to having a US NAVY pension, access to SNAP/EBT, and Social services. He has a family looking for him to give him shelter and love. He doesn’t want it. He likes roughing it in the out back. He uses a PO Box to get his check. Yes you can do that by listing the USPS office’s physical address and the box number as an apartment number. Yes that is fraud.

        Almost ALL U.S. homeless have access to state social services which is subsidized by the US Federal Government (US HHS) – IOW WELFARE. The only prerequisite is a permanent and physical address or IOW a home. And yes the social services will find them one and pay most of the rent (for a section 8 dwelling) as it would come from their welfare or SSI or SSA check. But they don’t want it! They prefer to live under bridges and such. We can’t just hide them on an island the way Canada does.

        Why do they prefer that if someone is willing to pick up the tab? Mental illness is one reason. Some may be criminals at large (or think they are). However, if they checked in they would find that their warrants were either misinterpreted, expired due to statute of limitations, or LEO’s just don’t care any more as too much time has passed or the crime was too petty and not worth prosecuting now.

        However, the robot in this video has all the trappings of a hobo who fits the profile of the typical mentally ill version. Maybe even coupling that with ethanol abuse. That shopping cart is typical. Those things are expensive. Maybe $200-500 USD. So that is considered more than a misdemeanor if caught. But cops usually just over look it to be nice as they feel the supermarket can just write it off on taxes.They make good makeshift chairs too at bus stops. They also steal newspapers and card board boxes. Newspapers make great heat insulators and boxes make good tents. They also pick food from trash cans behind grocery stores, when the local churches have soup kitchens and there are free food pickups around towns.

        Shelters are only temporary for about 20-28 days. Your stuff is in jeopardy of being stolen by crack heads. The toilets are full of heroin addicts shooting up. And meth heads are no fun either. The security guards are pretty much useless and the police never rush to a shelter to help out. Your best bet is to let social services help you. Or let your family do their part in helping you.

        The ROBO-HOBO was a good project. It highlights the plight of the homeless. It needs to be done here in USA like NYC, DC, Chicago, or LA. At the end there could be a message either audio or video making some sort of social point. But here in USA it may get vandalized by street thugs. Maybe the HOBO-ROBO could pull a knife or a fake pistol… (just kidding!!!)

  4. One day there really may be homeless robots. Assuming they are eventually given “rights” of some sort, recycling old robots may equate to murder. So once newer robots take jobs away, some older robots will end up homeless. Instead of panhandling for food and booze, they will panhandle for lubricants and electricity. Weird to imagine, isn’t it?

    1. Why?

      An AI, as we currently conceive of them – is independent from most of it’s hardware. So there’s little reason why a capable ‘AI mind’ couldn’t be transferred to a new chassis on the old one becomes degraded or obsolete.

      There’s also the possibility of running it independently as a participant in a virtual environment; rather than being a fully actualized machine.

      At least until rampancy sets in. But to be fair, human civilization is not et mature enough to handle the question of AI rights, much less the question of robot Euthanasia.

  5. OMG Mike from hack a day and ALL you guys REALLY have to stop helping Hernando B., or damian putting up post for him, I’m the victim of the thieves! and is obsessive crazy victimising … And encrypted PI thing in the posts, we are trying to clean from posts from wired too ! ( that robot looks just like H the same from wiring , whining about the arduino and bad press when he made it open and cc anyway , when he was returning from china winning with doping his obsolete led wall lighting led squares with motion sensors , a kid can do that)

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