RIP: HitchBot

Equal parts art project and social media experiment, with a dash of backyard hackery “robotics” thrown in for good measure, hitchBot was an experiment in the kindness of strangers. That is, the kindness of strangers toward a beer bucket filled with a bunch of electronics with a cute LED smiley face.

The experiment came to a tragic end (vandalism, naturally) in Philadelphia PA, after travelling a month across Canada, ten days in Germany, and yet another month across the Netherlands. It survived two weeks in the USA, which is more than the cynics would have guessed, but a few Grand Canyons short of the American Dream.

Professors [David Smith] and [Frauke Zeller] built hitchBot to see how far cuteness and social media buzz could go. [Smith], a former hitchhiker himself, also wanted hitchBot to be a commentary on how society’s attitudes toward hitching and public trust have changed since the 70s. Would people would pick it up on the side of the street, plug it in to their own cigarette lighters, and maybe even take it to a baseball game? Judging by hitchBot’s Twitter feed, the answer was yes. And for that, little bucket, we salute you!

But this is Hackaday, and we don’t pull punches, even for the recently deceased. It’s not clear how much “bot” there was in hitchBot. It looks like it had a GPS, batteries, and a solar cell. We can’t tell if it took its own pictures, but the photos on Twitter seem to be from another perspective. It had enough brains inside to read out Wikipedia entries and do some rudimentary voice recognition tasks, so it was a step up from Tweenbots but was still reassuringly non-Terminator.

Instead, hitchBot had more digital marketing mavens and social media savants on its payroll than [Miley Cyrus] and got tons of press coverage, which seems to have been part of the point from the very start. And by writing this blog post, we’re playing right into [Smith] and [Zeller]’s plan. If you make a robot / art project cute enough to win the hearts of many, they might just rebuild it. [Margaret Atwood] has even suggested on Twitter that people might crowdfund-up a hitchBot 2.0.

Our suggestion? Open-source the build plans, and let thousands of hitchBots take its place.

Nothing’s as Vain as a Phone Taking a Selfie of Itself… with Itself

The selfie: pop culture’s most frivolous form of self-expression is also probably one of the most human acts you could find yourself doing in a day. Everyone is guilty of snapping a quick pic from time to time with the expectation that it will leave an impression on those who see it. All of the implications surrounding why we do this support our deep-seated need to sculpt an identity for ourselves using others as the hammer and chisel. So, consider how upside-down the world would feel if you caught a robot posing for a shot in the mirror? What about one whose sole function was to take selfies and post them? If this breaks your mind a little, that was the intention. This #selfie robot by artists [Radamés Ajna] and [Thiago Hersan] is the first development in a larger body of work called “memememe”, which is meant to comment on our culture’s obsession with the trending, selfing nature of social media. This specific project explores the relationship between conversation and identity in a situation where there is no second party.

selfieBOT2Hardware-wise, the #selfie bot is a Stewart platform made from six servo motors and a few pieces of carefully measured pushrod connected with swivel-ball-links. An android phone is mounted on the end effector which acts functionally as the robot’s face and eyes. To make it self-aware in a sense, [Ajna] and [Hersan] created their own recognition software with Open CV using a collection of sample images of various phones as reference points. As soon as the robot recognizes itself in the mirror as indicated by specific words flashing on its screen, it takes a picture, immediately uploading it to its own tumblr account. [Ajna] and [Hersan] have a nice description of their process on the project’s Instructable’s page which you can check out to see how they used Haar Cascades to create their custom object recognition. Additionally, if you’d fancy building your own robot to covertly place in your living room to snap pictures of other phones, you could check out their code on github.

Watch it selfie :

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Social Media HUD

After [Gregg Benjamin] read our story about a simple physical email notifier, he decided to test his skills and add some touches of his own. Rather than limiting his notifier to just email, he has added support for displaying Pandora Radio songs, Facebook notifications, and email all to a LCD. He even has included code for an optional motion detector, as well as support for text message notification. We always love it when our stories inspire our readers to bring their own various solutions to similar problems, so we hope some of you take the code he has supplied (written in python for desktop side, and Arduino sketches for the microcontroller side) and add support for your own interests. Might we suggest RSS feed support, or other social media such as reddit or Google Reader? Let us know if you add something cool, and we might do a follow-up!

[Gregg] doesn’t have a blog of his own, so we have posted the demo video to YouTube, and he has provided all of his related code and images to Megaupload (warning, file is ~115 MB). Sorry to anyone looking for a blog link.