With glitterbombs and fart spray: Mark Rober's on a mission to take on porch pirates, squirrels and science

From Apple, NASA to YouTube with glitterbombs and fart spray: How Mark Rober won the internet with porch pirate battle.
From Apple, NASA to YouTube with glitterbombs and fart spray: How Mark Rober won the internet with porch pirate battle.
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Ever been victimized by a porch pirate plundering packages from your front door? Most people would call Amazon for a refund or even the police.

But imagine you're a prankish former NASA engineer with time on your hands and millions of YouTube followers. Then what would you do?

Mark Rober tried a different strategy: glitter and fart spray.

Rober witnessed a brazen passer-by approach his front door and swipe a package from his Nest cam a couple of years ago. When police failed to seek out the porch pirate, Rober set a trap: an innocuous Amazon box that when opened would unleash a flurry of glitter and fart spray on a thief all while he filmed it using four different cameras.

"You might have to burn the house down to completely rid it of all the glitter, but at least it's like no one getting hurt," said Rober during an interview with USA TODAY.

Rober's fans know this as the "glitterbomb," and his contraption has led to a massive following on YouTube, where he has amassed more than 18 million subscribers.

His latest test of the glitterbomb features a new target: phone scammers. A video posted in late March with more than 33 million views shows Rober unleashing his creation of multiple people working as part of a phone scam operation.

"The only thing worse than a porch pirate is these spam scam calls, and I didn't totally even understand how it worked," said Rober.

But his channel is more than just dousing unscrupulous people with glitter and fart spray. He has one video where he makes the largest lemon battery, and another featuring a hot tub filled with liquid sand.

More than glitter: Who is Mark Rober?

Rober, who is a mechanical engineer, didn't set out to forge a career as a YouTube star. After college, Rober joined NASA in 2004 to work at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, where he worked on the Curiosity Rover sent to Mars in 2011.

It was during his tenure at NASA when he made his first YouTube video: a do-it-yourself Halloween costume featuring a pair of iPads running FaceTime. The front iPad's camera would show what was streaming from the back iPad, and vice versa, creating the illusion of a gaping hole through your body.

"It's so cringey, how I talked to the camera, and the energy level, and the camera angles, Rober recalls. "The video was literally me handing my phone to my wife and just being like, 'Hey, film this.'"

The video drew millions of hits and captured the attention of national media.

"That high you feel from the first ever video just going viral – because it was such a delta from absolutely nothing to something – I've sort of been chasing that high ever since," said Rober.

Mark Rober's YouTube channel has more than 18 million subscribers.
Mark Rober's YouTube channel has more than 18 million subscribers.

Rober eventually moved on to Apple, where he worked in the tech giant's special projects group. He quit in 2019 to focus on his YouTube channel full time.

His mission with his videos is to get young people excited about science and engineering, luring them with cool stuff such as a rocket-powered golf club and then trying to "sneak the science in."

"I don't go super in depth to any specific topic, but I keep it broad enough that even someone who's doesn't consider themselves to be science or engineering-minded, it makes sense to them and they can feel good and walk away from it feeling smarter," said Rober.

Rober typically drops a new video every month, with videos planned out months in advance. Rober says he has sketched out ideas all the way to 2022.

Among one of his cooler creations: a project that started as the "perfect squirrel proof bird feeder," which morphed into a "Ninja Warrior"-inspired squirrel obstacle course.

In a video last September, he spent eight months crafting an explosion with elephant toothpaste – or "devil's toothpaste" as Rober calls it – a foam experiment involving hydrogen peroxide, yeast and dish soap.

The why of it – beyond why not and because it's awesome – was to throw a kid named Fletcher, who had been fighting a very rare form of brain cancer, "the most epic birthday party ever," Rober says in the video. "He's such a funny kid that I was so inspired by his hopeful attitude that, after talking for an hour, I secretly vowed that if he made it to 13 years old, I would fly him and his family out and surprise him with just the dopest birthday party ever."

The project that has drawn the most attention is the glitterbomb. It has even landed Rober in hot water. After that first glitterbomb video aired in 2018, Rober said he removed portions of the video after learning some of the reactions were staged.

"Ultimately, I am responsible for the content that goes on my channel and I should have done more here," Rober wrote in an apology posted three years ago.

Rober pressed on with his creation, refining and remodeling the glitterbomb for bigger results. The 2.0 version released in 2019 boasted a more pungent fart spray, biodegradable glitter, and the sound of a voice counting down from five right after deployment. Last year's 3.0 glitterbomb had a new casing with handles covered in glue, more canisters of fart spray with skunk essence, even more glitter, and police-inspired red and blue LED lights.

"Everyone loves these, maybe except for the actual package thieves themselves," Rober said.

Rober already has plans for glitterbomb 4.0, which he will reveal around Christmas.

"I want a better reaction of someone like jumping back, being surprised and shocked by the box," said Rober. "So we have two new features this year that will give me a better visual response of people jumping back and being surprised and shocked."

Rober gets personal

The YouTube star has also opened up more about his personal life. In a video released April 16, Rober talks about his son who is on the autistic spectrum.

"Even as I make this video, I am incredibly terrified, but this is something that my wife and I feel really strongly about," he says to open the video. Rober joined late-night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel to host a livestream fundraiser called Color the Spectrum to support the autism community.

And their collaboration isn't done. The two are working together on a new TV show they plan to film later this year called "Revenge of the Nerd," where they prank people who violate minor social norms.

"They don't return their grocery cart? Well, we motorized the grocery cart and chase them around," he said.

He also has advice for those aspiring to make it big on YouTube: Don't do it to be rich and famous.

"The right reason to do it is because you want to express creativity, or you want to learn how to edit videos, or you want to be able to communicate and tell stories because then what is considered success, the bar is much lower," he said. "If your criteria for success is 'you want to be rich and famous,' very few people are gonna feel successful in that."

Follow Brett Molina on Twitter: @brettmolina23.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: YouTube star Mark Rober battles science, squirrels and porch pirates