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New York should rebuild hitchBOT

The remains of hitchBOT appear in a photo

The remains of hitchBOT appear in a photo posted on Twitter. The Associated Press reported that the robot's creators said that someone in Philadelphia damaged the robot beyond repair early Saturday, Aug. 1, 2015, ending its first American tour after about two weeks. Photo Credit: Rebecca Tennenbaum

The hitchBOT, a Canadian-made robot programmed to record a hitchhiking journey, relied on the generosity of passing humans to help it achieve its bucket list of traveling the world. Strangers carried it across Canada and around parts of Europe, but that generosity fell short after only two weeks in the United States, when it was destroyed by hooligans in Philadelphia during the weekend.

HitchBOT amassed more than 52,000 Twitter followers and has a Facebook page with more than 92,000 likes. It attended a wedding in Germany, had its portrait painted in the Netherlands and attended a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston.

In a Facebook post on Saturday, hitchBot's creators wrote from the perspective of the robot, "Oh dear, my body was damaged . . . I guess sometimes bad things happen to good robots! My trip must come to an end for now, but my love for humans will never fade."

The Internet reacted with a collective sigh. One Twitter user mentioned outfitting hitchBOT 2.0 with "offensive capabilities" to deter bad guys. Many American commenters apologized for the violence that led to such a short stay in our country.

HitchBOT's creators had one concern in mind: whether robots could trust humans -- not whether people can trust robots.

We're not surprised by the answer, but we're not deterred. This nation needs to show the world that our culture of helping hitchhikers is not dead -- even for those with pool noodles for arms.

Every year, New York City hosts robotics championships that draw teams from the tri-state area, as well as from Brazil and Turkey. There's also an annual Long Island competition that invites more than 50 teams of high school students to see which can build the best robot.

With all the engineering talent we have in New York, we can and should build a hitchBOT 2.0 that will continue to pursue the goals of the Canadian hitchBOT -- and restore faith in the compassion of Americans.

We shouldn't have to weaponize a harmless robot so it can travel the United States.


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