Hacker Makes A Flawless Booby Trap, Strikes Back Against Package Thieves

[Mark Rober] was fed up with packages going missing. He kept receiving notifications that his shipments had been delivered, but when checking his porch he found nothing there. Reviewing the CCTV footage revealed random passers-by sidling up to his porch and stealing his parcels. It was time to strike back. Over six months, [Mark] and his friends painstakingly designed, prototyped and iterated the perfect trap for package thieves, resulting in a small unit disguised as an Apple HomePod. The whole scheme is wonderfully over-engineered and we love it.

The main feature of the device is a spinning cup on the top which contains a large amount of glitter. When activated, it ejects glitter in every directions. You could say it’s harmless, as it’s just glitter. But then again, glitter has a way of staying with you for the rest of your life — turning up at the least expected times. It certainly leaves an emotional impression.

Activation is quite clever; the fake package sits on the porch until an accelerometer detects movement. At that point, GPS checks to see if the package has traveled outside a geo-fence around [Mark]’s house. A signal is then sent to the four smartphones to start recording — yes, that’s right, there are 4 phones inside, one on each side to capture the reaction of the thief.

How can [Mark] be so confident that he’ll be able to recover the four phones and their footage? That’s answered by GPS tracking and a can of fart spray actuated by a 3D printed cam and DC motor, ensuring the thief won’t want this package around for long. This actuator and the glitter motor are controlled by a custom PCB, which also triggers the phones to start recording through their headphone jacks and detects the opening of the package with some microswitches. This is truly a masterpiece that outsmarts the package thieves in a way that leaves an impression while still being playful.

(Editor’s Note 2: On 12/20/18 it was announced that two of the five thieves shown in the originally video were staged, apparently without [Mark Rober’s] knowledge. Here is his statement on the matter.)

(Editor’s Note 1: [Sean Hodgins] wrote in with bonus video on how the Glitter Bomb works and how it was made.)

If booby traps are your thing, we’ve got you covered. Check out this ticking bomb style puzzle, or this crate challenge which is rigged to blow.

158 thoughts on “Hacker Makes A Flawless Booby Trap, Strikes Back Against Package Thieves

        1. I had never seen Schlock Mercenary before. Already reading in binge mode. The HMO arm replacement and food service rules was funny stuff.
          Seems that puns are fair game too.

  1. Arrrrgh – this has totally turned my day around.
    I would have gone with a dye bomb, fish guts, mace or some expanding foam adhesive but this is still pretty poetic.

    Super awesome that they got so much milage out of it too.

    1. I wonder how much expanding foam, laced with 3-methylindole, you could fit in a box that size, I mean in terms of the final expanded rigid foam volume. It would be as if this giant’s turd just appeared out of nowhere.

      1. Given how much a little can of foam can occupy I’d say roughly 1 x 2 door hatchback or sedans worth :p That stuff (happen to be working with it right now) is nearly impossible to get off your skin or anything else even the slightest bit damp.

  2. It would be fun to have it count down after the glitter and fart spray and at zero start a big homebrew smoke bomb, and than let loose with fluorescent spray paint once the smoke got going real good. It would be hard to see in all the smoke and really would ensure that the package would be disposed of quick. It would also be cool watching the peoples reactions once the thing started counting down.

    1. You made me think of one, as well: Have a timer countdown from 10, with either an audible or visual indication of said counter. Then, ignite a fuse. Just a fuse, nothing more, nothing else. Watch them run, and run and run…

      1. That reminds me of a fictional hacker – the Stainless Steel Rat – he had a panic and terror mechanism – it wasn’t an actual bomb – that he would throw into a crowd to create the chaos necessary for his escape. All it did was shout “I’m a thirty second bomb, I’m a twenty-nine second bomb, I’m a twenty-eight second bomb”, and well, you get the idea.

    1. I heartily 2nd vote for use of printer toner.
      But how bad will it foul the mechanicals of the booby prize?
      Would using a conductive printer filament solve the problem of static cling?

    2. *cyan* toner…black would not be visible on black clothing, cyan is visible on nearly everything and just as hard to remove as the black one.
      Also use CO2 for launching, it would make it disperse much better, as even a little cartrige holds a lot more energy then the mechanical launcher can give.

      Evil variant n.2 is a nice, hefty HC smoke bomb, but that would pose a serious fire hazard.

        1. His contraption includes a lighter, I think he means for it to ignite.

          FYI to anyone thinking about this: don’t do it. Boobytraps are illegal and you will go to jail if it burns someone.

  3. Better to have the glitter bomb go off in their car! Your yard won’t look like a disco. Also consider other spray stinks, and just spray paint too. Gold metallic. Red dye like banks use, or red stuff to make you think you’re bleeding. The camerae, meh an underarm view and of course hoods. The lens ports might be a tip off as virtually all packaging is solid surface with flaps and a tiny hole right there on top. Good spot to get a face shot bending over to pick it up. The 4 channel audio though muffled might be interesting.

    If using GPS why not have the fun start after a preset speed on the faster streets. A call is made to record things said even if it later gets dumped. That would be fun to hear.

    Revenge only low tech. Package with a balloon full of pee ruptures when opened.

      1. because they’re human too and in the eyes of the law a person is innocent until proven guilty IN a court of law. in all honestly you could be sued for putting a video like this out there on mutable grounds like violation of privacy laws for one. that’s not even getting into if someone bad happened and say one of these people were allergic to the fart spray and had to go to the hospital…..

        just because someone breaks the law doesn’t mean they lose their human and legal rights no matter how good that idea may feel.

        you could have the video for evidence but anything more then that and you start getting into some bad legal Territory.

        1. Sure, but who’s going to try bring a court case, “I stole this guy’s package and he photographed me!”? The existence of the photograph at all, in any surroundings other than the guy’s yard, is evidence itself of the theft.

          Sure there’s laws against deadly booby traps, or ones that take a limb off, but you’re already allowed to photograph people without their permission. The photographer owns the copyright (which since it’s your stolen camera acting on a program you wrote, I’d argue is you). The only comeback the thief would have is some form of libel. Which would be so ironic he’d GUARANTEE the story would be all over the Internet.

          Speaking personally, though, I wouldn’t put as much effort, never mind the expense of a load of phones, into something I’m expecting to get stolen.

          1. “but you’re already allowed to photograph people without their permission.”

            only in public spaces and never their voice, recording video and voice of someone in their one house is a violation of the law. and its worse for this guy because he put it in a video where he could make money off it.

            honest stealing a package isn’t much of a crime and not copping to doing so wouldn’t be much of a deterrent if they could get a bigger payday.

      1. He’s being too kind. People need to take responsibility for their actions. Given that he’s not prosecuting, exposing them to their friends and neighbors as a package thief seems not unfair.

        1. There may also be more than kindness affecting how Mark treated his targets. Like maybe Mark isn’t a saint, himself. “Let him cast the first stone…”, that principle. He makes subtle (perhaps unintentional) mention of his virtues briefly at the end of the video in his endorsement of NordVPN.

        1. If they are arrested and charged, then obviously, you would be the one that called the cops and provided the video. And if they aren’t the one in the video, then you may have a lawsuit on your hands.

  4. Anything of value I get delivered to where I work. Everything else would be just irritating to me and bewildering and disappointing to a thief. Hell, even I don’t know what to do with 99% of the parts I buy.

    1. Ya till you want something to go to your house and the UPS guy knows you and sees the name and delivers it to work anyway. I had to try to explain why I had 50lb of Tannerite delivered to my office. I asked the UPS guy next time I have explosives to please use the labeled address for delivery. You should have seen his eyes.

    1. this device brakes some laws itself some a little higher up the food chain of crimes then stealing someones package. he could face his own legal charges if he posted the videos showing their faces.

        1. Most US states have laws against being recorded in places where a “reasonable expectation of privacy” exists. But in this case, if it is your front porch, you may record anything you want, because no-one is granted expectation of privacy outdoors.

          As for disseminating that video however, that is a different problem. Potential slander and privacy rights lawsuits may head your way if you were to distribute the video without the consent of the thief, even if the thief were convicted.

        2. to add too what Brian said one this package left this guys front porch it became a violation of us law. you can only record video in a public space and even then its illegal to record someones voice. this trap recorded video and voice inside peoples houses without there permission and whats worse is that he put this in a video he can make money off of.

    1. Polymerization releases a lot of heat, that could actually burst into flames. Also, cured, uncured and the fumes from the glue are fairly flammable.
      The jury might not share your hate of package thieves when you stand trial for manslaughter by burning the dude in his car.

      PU foam is just as evil and because it expands, it doesn’t want to burst into flames.

    2. But see, that’s what’s so brilliant about this. The glitter and fart spray are both non-destructive. They’re just annoying to clean up and a disincentive to keep the package. The people who grabbed the package aren’t going to track down where they got it from and vandalize the place, or worse. They’re just going to get rid of the package and pull out a vacuum cleaner.

      1. “The people who grabbed the package aren’t going to track down where they got it from and vandalize the place, or worse. They’re just going to get rid of the package and pull out a vacuum cleaner.”

        Any assumption you make about people (especially those with the moral fortitude to steal someone elses stuff), is bound to be wrong. You may just get rid of the package and pull out the vacuum cleaner, but you are not everyone and there are a lot of people who would go for revenge after even if it is illogical to plot revenge based on an item that was stolen. Its like being a programmer and thinking “users wouldn’t be that dumb”, you will always be surprised at how dumb and vengeful people can be.

  5. Mix the glitter with fluorescein powder. That stuff is a super concentrated non-toxic fluorescent dye. They use it to find water leaks and stuff. Normally it is a reddish orange powder but if it gets damp or wet it suddenly turns bright green.

  6. I had exactly the same topic in a discussion last week! We came also to the conclusion to use glitter, but in combination with CO2 cartrdges for whipped cream. Our idea was to flip a 3D-printed lever to open the “package” to open the cartridge which blows then glitter through small paper protected openings that break under the pressure. way smaller package and bigger mayhem due to larger radius. If you are lucky, you get them right into the face, a good chance that these guys look like a unicorn for DAYs.

    1. I like the current implementation because it has zero potential for causing an explosion. I know those CO2 cartridges are relatively safe, but anything under pressure has the potential to go wrong and cause shrapnel. This is safer… I would imagine it’s slow enough that you won’t even get glitter in your eyes as your reflexes will be faster than the velocity of the glitter.

      1. The aerosol can of fart spray probably is charged with something flammable now days.
        Are the ingredients flammable once sprayed into the open air?
        I would expect that the less spring loaded contents or pressurized gases involved in dispersal actions, the less (potential) legal issues you may have.
        I wouldn’t know what the lawyers say about any accidental flaming lithium cells in the phones though.
        So don’t use the wrong phones for your project build.

        On side note; Is that self dispersing package of poop video still on youtube?

          1. Oh heck. Yes, the cammed multi pumping should have clued me in.
            As teenager, I used to grab empty (pump type) hairspray bottles to use as a sort of poor mans air brush.
            Makes for nifty florescent glow effect, using a good grade of tempera.
            Hmm, where did I stow the black light!

      1. Some people enjoy living in poverty stricken areas.

        And although obviously they can pack up their things and move to a 10 bedroom villa at any given time they prefer entertaining themselves by playing with the hoodrats…


        1. you misunderstand how crime works in real life.

          the number one shoplifter are middle to upper class women and most packages are stolen bu middle to upper class areas by other will off people. the idea of crime being caused but poor people is a age old classicism lie that never matches up with reality.

          the simple fact is the richer you are the more like you are to be a criminal but the less likely you are to go to jail for it.

  7. I feel like using for smartphones is of bit of a silly idea what would have happened if they managed to get past all the security and crack it open it would have probably been better to use a raspy pie zero along with a GPS module and a cellular module at least the thieves would have some useless electronic junk instead of having four functional androids

    1. Have the vial suspended over an opening in the bottom, so that the contents get deposited on whatever surface they open it on, a car seat, couch, kitchen countertop, dining table. :)

        1. Upside down is the other easy way, but sideways with a knife works too. As to who would do such a thing, well never assume what people will do and you wont be suprised. Tip of the hat though, excellent implementation given a lack of compressed gas as a distribution method.

    1. This is the best method of getting them. “Hey, why don’t the radio work? Oh, I’ll just stream.” Knock knock “It’s the FCC and you are going to jail.”

      Man, that would ruin their life. Oh well, don’t be a crook!

  8. You have that right, somebody. Before attempting similar to this (and particularly some of the more ornery comment suggestions: explosion, bear spray, fine particulates), you should check federal/state laws on boobie traps than can cause harm. Not to mention that the USA is the litigation champion of the world. Even glitter and stink spray can cause great harm in the right circumstances. For your own sake don’t be a vigilante, put your efforts into alternate means to get your packages.

  9. “How can [Mark] be so confident that he’ll be able to recover the four phones and their footage? That’s answered by GPS tracking and a can of fart spray actuated by a 3D printed cam and DC motor, ensuring the thief won’t want this package around for long.”

    Mark has made quite a few assumptions about the potential thieves it seems. What happens if the thieves throw the package into a Faraday bag to disable gps tracking? or what happens if the thieves have no sense of smell? What if they are bronies and love the glitter?

    also, how effective is the glitter bomb if the package is opened any which way but right side up?

    It all seems fun and a great reason to create some content but it seems like a more efficient solution would either to get packages delivered to ones work place or a near-by secure pickup location

  10. Great ideal until someone throws your fake package in a pond / pool. Not sure how many more he would want to build after a good soaking. Also wonder if it was a faked video as I find it hard to believe the same package would be stolen so many times within a couple weeks. You can only use your house so many times in a setup like this.

  11. Has anyone started a short Sci-Fi story based on this device?
    I’m thinking something like “The Andromeda Strain” happens to the glitter?
    Perhaps a bio-engineered self healing propellant goes awry?
    Or a vigilante builds, thief disintegrating, nano-bots as the glitter.
    Where is Omni magazine and its trippy fiction, when you need it!

  12. Video security cameras have worked well for me. I don’t hide mine, all very obvious, and easy to spot. Also like large breed dogs, although this last one turned out to be a dud, even the cat slaps him around, seems to like the attention… Haven’t had a porch pirate, but I did catch a neighbor stealing some cactus, pissed me off, since he only had to ask, and I would have fixed him up with seeds or a start. He butcher two, over twenty years old, killed one of them. Had an old man, don’t think he was a bum, maybe retired, hobby or a little extra cash. He’d spend all day, digging through trashcans, take just the cans. Pissed me off one day, walks through my carport, to checkout my trash, left a little mess for me to pickup. I save my aluminum cans (beer) for the scrap yard, which he didn’t mess with, that time. He came back a day or so later, brought a new box of trash bags, ready to score big… I chained and locked the beer cans, knew he’d be back. Didn’t mind him doing the trash at the curb, be stay off my property. Both videos, and more on YouTube.

  13. It would be the same as the person that broke his leg, that broke into an elderly persons home. He sued the lady for alot of money and won the lawsuit! Now how messed up is the judicial system.

  14. As it turns out a bunch of the reaction shots were fakes. This really cheepens the whole thing. Now, did we really land on the moon or mars, or did NASA leave gathering the evidence of that to a friend of a friend who decided to fake it. This may, and probably should have repercussions in his professional life.

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.