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​HitchBOT's final moments in Philly

Last Updated Aug 3, 2015 5:35 PM EDT

HitchBOT had high hopes. The chatty hitchhiking robot had made its way across Canada, Germany and the Netherlands and was looking forward to going to Disney World, seeing the geysers in Yellowstone National Park and hitting up the Las Vegas strip.

But the bot with a bucket for a body didn't have a chance to make a dent in his bucket list. He only made it, over the course of two weeks, from Massachusetts to Philadelphia before he was left on a narrow street in Old City, decapitated, with his yard-sale-chic limbs and torso separated and ditched in the gutter.

A surveillance video spread on social media Monday purportedly shows a man violently kicking and stomping on HitchBOT:

"We're very disappointed," David Harris Smith told CBS Philly's Steve Patterson.

Smith and his collaborator Frauke Zeller call themselves HitchBOT's parents. They created the project as a social experiment to see what people would do if they encountered a helpless hitchhiking robot on the side of the road. The kindness and curiosity of strangers got him safely across three countries.

But in the U.S., it only got him across three states.

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HitchBOT hoped to catch rides from Massachusetts to San Francisco.
hitchBOT/Meaghan Carrocci

"I'm surprised by how upset I actually am," Zeller said, and referred to the picture of HitchBOT's dismembered remains. "I didn't expect it. I think that image that's circulated now on social media of vandalized HitchBOT is quite upsetting."

The last people known to have seen HitchBOT were two Philly residents, Jesse Wellens and a friend who goes by the name Ed Bassmaster, both of whom have popular YouTube channels. Wellens documented the encounter on YouTube and Twitter.

Friday night, a group of people handed over HitchBOT to the duo, who put it in the backseat of their pickup truck (the robot found the suggestion it should sit in the truck bed an "insult") and drove it to the oldest street in Philadelphia.

They hailed a taxi to find out how much it would cost to take HitchBOT to Washington, D.C., the next destination on his list. They seemed gamed to pay the $350 fare, but didn't trust the cab driver to follow through. So in the first hours of Saturday, they left HitchBOT at the end of the Elfreth's Alley, a historical landmark.

That was the last time the robot was seen in one piece.

Saturday afternoon, Wellens tweeted, "Thanks Philly!!! You freaking Killed @hitchBOT I'm so mad right now."

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HitchBOT rides a duck statue in Boston on July 23, 2015, less than two weeks before being vandalized beyond repair in Philadelphia.
hitchBOT/Jenny Villone

Wellens later claimed to have acquired surveillance video showing a man attacking the robot. He posted it to Shapchat and it was later added to Twitter by another user. The video seems to show that just before 6 a.m. Saturday morning, a man in a backward hat and a sports jersey -- which Deadspin identified as #12 on the Eagles, Randall Cunningham -- having ripped off HitchBOT's arms, stomped on it repeatedly.

There is no clear motive, though boredom, drunkenness or a strong reaction to the robot's brand of humor could have all come into play.

HitchBOT's parents said they won't grieve for their fallen son and that this is not an indictment of the City of Brotherly Love.

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

A spokesperson for the project told CBS News that the "family" is hoping to have the robot returned sometime this week. In a statement the family said, "We have no interest in pressing charges or finding the people who vandalized hitchBOT; we wish to remember the good times, and we encourage hitchBOT's friends and fans to do the same."

They also said "this great experiment is not over."

To paraphrase Philly darlings Boys II Men, although we've come to the end of the road, still we can't let go.

  • Amanda Schupak

    Amanda Schupak is the science and technology editor at CBSNews.com