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Traveling Canadian robot destroyed in Philly

HitchBOT had made its way through Germany, the Netherlands and its homeland, but couldn’t survive Philadelphia.

HitchBOT in Boston during happier traveling days. COURTESY OF MEAGHAN CARROCCI
HitchBOT in Boston during happier traveling days. COURTESY OF MEAGHAN CARROCCIRead moreMEAGHAN CARROCCI / Handout

Update: TORONTO (AP) - The Canadian talking and tweeting hitchhiking robot that met its untimely end in the United States over the weekend might be given another chance at life.

HitchBOT's co-creators Frauke Zeller and David Smith said Monday that they've been overwhelmed with support and offers to revive the robot since it was vandalized beyond repair on the streets of Philadelphia on Saturday and they are considering rebuilding it.

The robot was on a hitchhiking, social experiment adventure in the U.S. after trekking across Canada and parts of Europe last year. Strangers helped hitchBOT travel from place to place while checking items off its bucket list.

The robot was designed to traverse continents on the kindness of strangers and could toss out factoids and carry on limited conversation.​

Earlier story:

POLICE have little information about a four-faced robotic Canadian hitchhiker last seen intact near Old City's Elfreth's Alley before he was found beheaded, his torn-off arms at his side.

"I just think someone saw it, probably came out of a bar and was drunk and beat the crap out of it," Philadelphia Police Detective Joe Murray told the Daily News yesterday. "Leaving it in Old City on a Saturday night is probably the worst idea ever. Anything could happen."

Murray was speaking about hitchBOT, a "social experiment" from roboticists at Ryerson University, in Toronto, who didn't quite receive the "brotherly love and sisterly affection" our town is known for.

He had an Android-tablet brain and stuck out his opposable thumb to encourage folks to pick him up, using a built-in camera to see and a microphone to hear, according to a Ryerson website set up for him.

"Oh, dear, my body was damaged, but I live on back home and with all my friends," hitchBOT, who apparently did not realize that he'd been decapitated, posted Saturday on Facebook after the violent incident. "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. Thank you to all my friends."

Because hitchBOT's only movable part was his thumb, he relied on nice people who picked him up on the side of the road to get around. He instructed those whom he encountered to leave him on the sidewalk or the shoulder of the road for new friends to find.

Folks who helped the robot would often leave signatures on his repurposed beer-bucket body adjoined to flexible foam limbs. He wore gardening gloves and "wellies," a British and Canadian term for a type of rain boot.

The 3-foot, 25-pound friend of many took photos with his camera about every 20 minutes, and had a GPS connected to his circuits. But co-creator Frauke Zeller told the Associated Press that hitchBOT's battery was dead after his dismemberment, and creators couldn't track his location.

After touring Germany, the Netherlands and his home nation of Canada, hitchBOT began his U.S. tour on July 17 in Massachusetts. He was passed along through Boston - where he saw the Red Sox play at Fenway Park - to New York's Times Square. He was en route to San Francisco, hoping to see Mount Rushmore and the Grand Canyon along the way.

But he couldn't survive Philly.

A photo of hitchBOT's headless remains circulated on Twitter yesterday, and a Ryerson spokeswoman confirmed that the bot had been got - but by whom, and why, remained unclear.

"Sadly, sadly it's come to an end," Zeller told the Associated Press. "I hope that people won't be too disappointed, too sad."

She wasn't available for comment to the Daily News yesterday, a Ryerson spokeswoman said.

HitchBOT last was spotted in a YouTube video made by video bloggers Jesse Wellens and "Ed Bassmaster," who picked up him on the front steps of the Art Museum about 1:30 a.m. Saturday and loaded him into the back seat of their pickup truck.

In the video, hitchBOT speaks to them in the same voice one hears on Google Maps on a smartphone, telling them to buckle him up, and repeatedly exclaiming, "We are around Philadelphia!"

The video cuts to the trio at the west entrance to the circa-1702 Elfreth's Alley, the nation's oldest continuously inhabited residential street, where the humans sit the traveler down on a bench, trying to hail him a cab to Washington, D.C. They decide to leave him there for another group after learning the fare would be about $350.

Wellens confirmed the drop-off in a tweet sent at 3:57 a.m. Saturday.

The trail goes cold there.

Officer Tanya Little, a police spokeswoman, said that the Canadian owners hadn't filed a police report, and that police couldn't investigate without a report from the owner of vandalized property and a definite location where the vandalism occurred.

"I spoke with both Center City [police] districts and police radio, and at this time there are no reports of this," Little wrote in an email.

"They are all seeing the same tweets and other social media posting[s] as you are."

Last night, Bassmaster surfaced on the live-streaming app Periscope - in character.

"They had a news crew come out, talk to me, ask me about that robot, but like I said, I ain't know anything about the robot. Said y'all's tripping, y'all need to find the people who did it. I have had nothing to do with it. I got everyone blowing up my phone, trying to do an interview.

"We gonna find out who did it to the robot and we gonna hurt 'em," he vowed.

"I'm gonna put this full on the news."

Bassmaster, who didn't return a call from the People Paper for comment, said on the live stream that he was reluctant to speak to reporters because "they always trying to find out how you hustle."

In the city that still sometimes gets a bad rap for throwing snowballs at Santa Claus during an Eagles game in 1968, social media were abuzz yesterday, with some people worrying that hitchBOT's brutal, untimely demise would be more "evidence" for anti-Philly sentiment.

After all, a dismembered robot is nothing to be proud of.

"There's a high concentration of New Jersey people on 2nd Street at night on a Saturday, so we'll blame it on them," Detective Murray said.

"People here are like, 'It's a robot. He comes into Philly and this is what happens.' I understand that, but it's kind of embarrassing," Murray added. "We complain about the image that we have, then puff our chests out when something like this happens."

Authorities said it was the first robot murdered in the city this year. Only a day before International Friendship Day, no less.

-The Associated Press contributed to this report.