HitchBot mystery: Alleged CCTV footage of robot’s destruction in Philly sparks controversy

© Paul Darrow
Footage of what is claimed to be the final moments of the traveling robot ‘hitchBOT’, which found its demise in Philadelphia after safely touring Canada, Germany and the Netherlands, has surfaced. But there are suspicions of a cruel prank.

The robot, which was made as a social experiment project to see if humans can empathize with a helpless, child-sized machine that needed their help to get around, was found decapitated last Saturday after a brutal attack in Philly.

Popular local vlogger Jesse Wellens, who was among the last people to see hitchBOT ‘alive’ on Saturday together with another vlogger Ed Bassmaster, claimed Monday that he had acquired footage of the attack.

The video he uploaded to Snapchat showed a man in a backward hat and a Philadelphia Eagles jersey (identifying him as #12, Randall Cunningham, a quarterback for the NFL team in the 1980s and early ’90s) having ripped off the robot’s arm and stomping on something obstructed from view twice. Presumably the robot.

The timecode shows the person kicked hitchBOT at 5:46am Saturday.

No motive for the attack was apparent from the footage.

The video may have been made by Wellens himself as prank, Gizmodo suggested. It said Bassmaster, who was with Wellens during the encounter with hitchBOT, often wears an oversized #12 Philadelphia Eagles jersey while acting as an alter-ego character. It also questioned whether a security camera was indeed placed at a point from which the video was shot.

The same idea was expressed by some social media users.

HitchBOT was created by Canadian researchers Professor Frauke Zeller, an assistant professor in the School of Professional Communication at Ryerson University. It relied on its goofy appearance and limited means of communication powered by a special computer script to steal rides from humans. He stole plenty of hearts too along the way.

READ MORE: Vandals cut short hitchhiking robot's US cross-country trek

It crossed its native Canada as well as Germany and the Netherlands, proving that people in general would treat a robot well. In the US it crossed three states before meeting its brutal end, but the creators say they don’t have a grudge with Philadelphia and neither plans to press charges against whoever vandalized it.

"I'm sure it could have happened anywhere. We don't really think it has anything to do with Philadelphia," Zeller said.