Surveillance footage purported to show HitchBOT's death called into question

Surveillance camera footage obtained by Philadelphia YouTuber Jesse Wellens appears to show Canada's favourite hitchhiking robot being destroyed. But is it real?

Video captured by Philadelphia surveillance camera thought to show hitchhiking Canadian robot's death

HitchBOT killer video a fake

8 years ago
Duration 3:23
Featured VideoNotorious web prankster admits to bogus images, but hitchBOT's demise is real

A video purporting to show the grisly destruction of a hitchhiking Canadian robot is bringing many on the web to new levels of shock, anger and sadness.

Fortunately for hitchBOT's legacy, it may be entirely fake — a surveillance scene staged by two professional pranksters. (UPDATE: The video has been confirmed as a hoax.)

YouTube star Jesse Wellens of Prank vs. Prank and his friend Ed Bassmaster were the last people believed to have seen hitchBOT before it was destroyed.

Wellens is also the sole source of the purported security tape, which he released on Snapchat and sent to several reporters Monday.

Based on the fact that a known prankster distributed the tape, the incident's timing, the duo's reputation, Bassmaster's prior wardrobe choices, photos showing no surveillance cameras near the scene, and other details surfacing on Reddit, skepticism about the footage has been ramping up since its initial release.

The Canadian researchers responsible for hitchBOT, a child-sized "social robot" famous for its cross-country travels, confirmed over the weekend that their creation had been destroyed beyond repair.

"The head, as far as we know, is missing," said McMaster University professor David Smith to CBC News, noting that some of its electronic parts had also been stripped out.

hitchBOT, seen here during happier times, embarked on a 6,000 kilometre 'Canadian Adventure' last summer — a trip it completed without incident. (Paul Darrow/Reuters )

Sadly, HitchBOT was only two weeks into its first tour across the U.S. when it was destroyed. The beloved bot is believed to have been vandalized Saturday night in Philadelphia while waiting for its next ride.

As one of the last two people to see hitchBOT intact, Philly-based Wellens seemed particularly invested on finding out what happened to it.

Wellens and Bassmaster had picked the bot up in the early morning hours of Aug. 1 and dropped it off near Elfreth's Alley and 2nd Street, as confirmed by HitchBOT's live map.

"Dropping the Robot at Elfreths Ally," Wellens tweeted to his nearly 900,000 followers shortly before 4 a.m. ET. "Waiting for one of you peeps to pick it up."

Whether the tweet tipped off a robot-hater or a vandal simply stumbled upon hitchBOT is not known, but by Saturday afternoon, Canada's tiny beloved traveller announced its own death.  

The internet has been reeling over hitchBOT's destruction ever since, as fans across the world express their condolences or offer to help with its repair.

A lieutenant from the Philadelphia Police Department told the Associated Press police could only investigate the act of vandalism if a criminal complaint is filed.

Smith told CBC News that his team will not be trying to find the person responsible, but Wellens appeared less forgiving in the days following the robot attack.

"Thanks Philly!!! You freaking Killed @hitchBOT I'm so mad right now," he tweeted Saturday evening. "Of course Killadelphia Kills the Robot!"

Early Sunday morning, he indicated that he was attempting to find security footage from near the scene.

Wellens sent CBC News a full-length video clip that he says was obtained from a resident who lives on Elfreths Ally on Monday. 

Timestamped at 5:46 a.m. Saturday morning, the closed-circuit security system footage shows what looks like a man in a Philadelphia Eagles jersey repeatedly kicking hitchBOT and removing some of its parts.

While many originally thought the clip above shed light upon how Canada's favourite hitchhiking robot lost its life, the tides had changed by Tuesday morning. The majority of people tweeting about hitchBOT now seem to believe that Wellens and Bassmaster staged a hoax — if not destroyed the bot themselves.

"It could be nothing, but Bassmaster and Jesse Wellens were both 1) The last people to record video of hitchBOT in one piece and 2) The people who acquired this supposed surveillance camera footage," wrote Gizmodo's Matt Novak Monday. "If this was a prank, it would be a pretty s*** one."