Hitching a ride …

If you’re taking a road trip this summer, you might run into a strange-looking hitchhiker. But you don’t have to worry about giving this traveler a ride …

image, http://m.hitchbot.me

in fact, you’d be helping to make history!

hitchBOT is a robot from Ontario, Canada. She’s already traveled … on her own! … across Canada and Germany. Then, in her own words, “I took a much-needed arts and culture vacation in the Netherlands. But what can I say … I am a free-spirited robot that loves to keep busy!” (hitchBOT’s creators refer to her as “it,” but “it” has a distinctively female voice. And yep, you heard that right … hitchBOT speaks!)

hitchBOT is the brainchild of Dr. David Harris Smith, Assistant Professor of Communication Studies and Multimedia at McMaster University, and Dr. Frauke Zeller, Assistant Professor of Professional Communication at Ryerson University, who worked with a collaborative, interdisciplinary team of researchers from the fields of visual arts, engineering, computer science, and communication with an unusual goal in mind. “Usually, we are concerned whether we can trust robots,” says Zeller, “but this project takes it the other way around and asks: Can robots trust human beings?”

“We expect hitchBOT to be charming and trustworthy enough in its conversation to secure rides through Canada,” said Zeller at the beginning of the experiment. And, after the first three legs of her adventure, he reports, “hitchBOT was very well received as it made its way across Canada, Germany, and the Netherlands, proving that robots can, indeed, trust humans.”

Humans can pass hitchBOT along to another traveler, leave her at a restaurant or shop, or simply use her kickstand to leave her on the roadside with her thumb raised for a ride. “It has a really low-tech look to it, something we dubbed the ‘yard-sale aesthetic,'” said Harris Smith, to help deter thieves. “The head is actually an acrylic cake-saver. hitchBOT looks like somebody has cobbled together odds and ends, like pool noodles, bucket, cake saver, garden gloves, and Wellies.”

In her own words, hitchBOT adds, “I am approximately 3 feet tall and weigh about 25 pounds. I have camera vision, a microphone, and a speaker system, which gives me the ability to see, hear, and speak. I also have a sense of space, thanks to my 3G and GPS capabilities, and I am aware of where I am and where I want to go next. For my trip across America, my family has been kind enough to install a battery meter on my beer-bucket torso. It can tell my new friends how much energy I have left (so they can avoid a crankyBOT!) and whether it is difficult for me to understand them.”

image, http://m.hitchbot.me

On July 17, hitchBOT hit the road in America for a cross-country tour, starting at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Massachusetts. She’ll hitch her way to San Francisco, one ride at a time, to end up at the Exploratorium. In honor of her beer-bucket torso, she’s even prepared a bucket list of things she would like to see and do while traveling the U.S., including visiting Times Square in New York City, Millennium Park in Illinois, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota, and the Grand Canyon in Arizona.

On your travels this summer, keep your eyes peeled for this unusual hitchhiker. And follow hitchBOT’s adventures at hitchBOT.me, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.


Rural TV

Hey, Jane!

Whether you’re out weeding the garden or haying the back 40, gather your gal pals and perk up your ears ’cause I have a nugget of news to share …

The Farmer’s Wife magazine, circa 1920

There’s a presidential election on the horizon.

“You called us in from the fields to announce the election, MJ?” sighs Jane. “Heck, every farmgirl from here to Hays knows THAT news. CNN, ABC, CBS, NBC … we hear the headlines, honey.”

Hold on, sisters.

The election isn’t my news (I knew you knew THAT news).

My news concerns your news—rather, where it comes from.

Come again?

The networks you mentioned (most networks, for that matter) are broadcast by mega media corporations, far and away from cropland, countryside, and rural citizens’ concerns. Urban journalists interview urbane politicians (including potential presidential candidates) who frequently focus on issues of interest to the metropolitan masses.

What say you? “Too true!”

Now that I’ve nabbed your attention, here’s my news for you to use:

RFD-TV, a 24-hour news network dedicated to rural programming via cable and satellite, just announced that it will expand into political coverage this month with a new series called “Rural Town Hall”. This hour-long show, scheduled to air on Monday and Thursday evenings, will feature one-on-one interviews with presidential hopefuls, targeting issues specific to agriculture, rural education, development, health care, and more.

“What’s really important to us is that no one perceives us as having a pony in this race,” Patrick Gottsch, founder and president of Rural Media Group, told Modern Farmer. “We’re not Republican, we’re not Democrat. We’re not liberal, we’re not conservative. We’re rural Americans, and we’re asking the questions that are important to rural America.”

Already thinking of questions you’d like to ask? Send ’em in!

That’s right—the network is gathering questions from viewers as well as organizations like the Future Farmers of America and 4-H. Contact the network here.