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Starfish Robots
There's a good reason people call them "squiddies."

For most of the history of fiction dealing with robots, the mechanical beings have almost always been portrayed as humans or animals made up of artificial parts, usually metal. In fact, the word "android" (literally "like a male human"), referring to artificial humans, predates the word "robot" by several decades, which goes to show that when people think of automatons, they tend to think of beings more or less akin to organic beings.

Gradually, however, savvy thinkers began to realize that this didn't necessarily have to be the case. After all, if you can construct robots in any form you want, why limit yourself to copying existing entities? Why not give robots unique forms of their own? Thus, the Starfish Robot started taking hold.

Such strange robots may be partly designed after equally strange organic creatures such as insects, cephalopods, or other invertebrates, though a direct parallel may be hard to find. Other times, their designs may not have any basis in the natural world. Occasionally, the robots may need to be designed with bizarre forms in order to function better in particular situations.

This trope is to Starfish Aliens what Ridiculously Human Robots are to Human Aliens. Also, note that Starfish Aliens would logically make their robots look like starfish, for the same reasons humans would make androids.

Common variations of this trope include Spider Tank, Tripod Terror and Tin-Can Robot. Subtrope of Robot. See also Ambiguous Robots.


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

    Anime and Manga 
  • While the Humongous Mecha piloted by the main cast of Bokurano is humanoid, albeit with some arthropod-like features, their opponents include things such as Bayonet, a colossal flying spike; Drum, a massive rolling cylinder that can gain traction on anything; and Gunter, an upside-down hazard-striped cup/meatgrinder with two tentacle-shaped clamps.
  • Cyborgs 0011 and 0012 in Cyborg 009. 0011 resembles a flying saucer; its "windows" can shoot adhesives, or 0011 can bring out its legs through them. 0012 serves as the AI for an even bigger mech.
  • Most of the robots that Team Rocket from Pokémon assemble are either mechanical versions of specific Pokemon or just plain ridiculous designs.
  • In Gundam, most mobile suits are humanoid in nature. However, Mobile Armors are most often non-humanoid, and some are very strangely designed, especially newtype models like the Braw Bro and Elmeth, as well as the insect like Neue Ziel.
    • Gundam SEED then adds the dog like mobile suits, the Bu CUE, used by ZAFT. They are designed to traverse more uneven terrain.

    Comic Books 
  • One early Judge Dredd prog introduced a police bloodhound robot. It has a vehicular compartment in the back that Dredd rides in, with the front dominated by an elephant-like trunk with antennae and two appendages that resemble both headlights and eyes. Weirdly enough, the tail of the Speech Bubble for this bloodhound robot is pointing at one of the eye/headlight appendages.
  • Kryptonian robots in Post-Crisis Superman stories are hovering platforms with preying mantis arms and a head that consists of a single elongated eye, and just enough surrounding structure to support the eye. It's probably simpler if you just look at them.

    Films — Animated 

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Depending on whom you ask, Xenomorphs from the Alien franchise seem to fit this description given their origin. It's been known that Xenomorphs don't necessarily eat humans, so their body isn't exactly carbon-based (Word of God says their skin is actually ceramic) and their blood is acidic. The only thing that makes them rely on humans is a Face Full of Alien Wing-Wong - indeed, that is one of their few purposes.
  • The Sentinels from The Matrix are robots with twice as many tentacles as a squid and twice as many eyes as a spider that fly through the air. One scene from the "Second Renaissance" short from The Animatrix shows an offline humanoid robot being passed over by a Sentinel, which symbolizes how the Machines deliberately abandoned less bizarre forms to signal their abandonment of their human creators.
  • The insect-like tracker robots in Minority Report.
  • Many of the droids from Star Wars. While many come in varieties more akin to the humanoid C3-PO, others look like the strange "trash bin on wheels" R2-D2, while others have such surreal designs that it's difficult to compare them to any real life object.
  • Two of the Constructicons from Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen that can turn into excavators actually have hunched backs and two giant wheels instead of legs (made from their treads while in excavator mode) for robot modes.
    • Transformers: Dark of the Moon has a background character, called Devcon in his reference art, that changes from a mobile missile platform into Cloverfield.
    • The original ''Transformers'' had the original toy versions of Ratchet and Ironhide, although the cartoon averted this, as with later toys, so that they look more like how they appeared in the cartoons. (Their original toys each separated from a minivan into a weapons platform and a headless piloted mech, owing to their origins from a Japanese line of piloted mecha toys.)
  • One of the caged monsters from The Cabin in the Woods is a machine that looks like a Real Life industrial robot that's been equipped with legs.
  • *batteries not included.
  • Johnny 5 from the Short Circuit movies is a borderline example.
  • Huey, Dewey, and Louie from Silent Running.
  • VINCENT, BOB, and Maximillian from The Black Hole.
  • In Man of Steel, Kryptonian robots generally consist of egg-like shapes with the occasional oddly-placed appendage and a section devoted to storing a morphing liquid metal that displays images. The world engine uses this liquid metal to form ultra-speedy amorphous tentacles to attack Superman.
  • Demon Seed has a metal thing that resembles nothing so much as a Rubik's Snake toy.

    Literature 
  • In Hellspark by Janet Kagan, the robot drone that accompanies the heroine isn't described in detail, but it has a multitude of legs and the in-universe technical term for it is arachne, derived from the Greek word for "spider".
  • Their general absence is discussed in-universe in one of Asimov's Robot-series books, the justification being that humans have already been designing tools for their own use for thousands of years, so it makes more sense to just design robots capable of using those same kind of tools rather than intensely specialized robots with those tools built in (like a robot that can ride a tractor, instead of a tractor-bot). Starfish robots of varying degrees appear earlier in the setting when robots are used almost exclusively in space for exploration, mining, and terraforming.
    • One of the mysteries in the Robot-series actually involves the supposedly dire implications of starfish robots inevitably leading to sentient interstellar warships that could get around being Three-Laws Compliant (it being impossible to create a robotic brain without the Three Laws in-continuity). Essentially, the argument goes that a sufficiently non-humanoid robot might fail to have any sense of what constitutes a "human," allowing it to violate the Laws out of ignorance.
  • Saturn's Children by Charles Stross. After the demise of humanity those robots least attached to their creators have formed the new aristocracy, and the Sex Bot protagonist is despised for her Deceptively Human Robot appearance. Most other robots have a more practical appearance for living and working in outer space or other planets.
  • Vuffi Raa from L. Neil Smith's Star Wars trilogy The Lando Calrissian Adventures is a perfect example of this trope, actually being shaped like a starfish.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The robotic shells the Daleks use for transportation in Doctor Who. They are salt-shaker shaped tanks with an eye-stalk, a gun tube, and a telescoping arm ending in either a plunger-like device or a claw. Appropriately enough, the Daleks themselves are Starfish Aliens (though they mutated from humanoids).
  • The pilot movie for Lexx has a small dragonfly-like robot.
  • Although the Hybrids in Battlestar Galactica have a semi-humanoid form, they are actually giant living computers for the Cylons' base ships (which look very much like literal starfish). Unable to conventionally communicate with humans or other humanoid Cylons, they instead "vomit metaphysics" and surrealist poetry in between routine system checks. Some characters believe the hybrids to be closer to God.
  • The Skutters in Red Dwarf, with a trapezoid base from which a single arm extends. At the end of the arm is a three-fingered hand with an eye built into it. While it's apparent the hand is unsuited for many of the tasks Skutters are expected to do, it's very good for flipping V-signs at Rimmer.

    Tabletop Games 
  • GDW's Dark Conspiracy. The Darktek sourcebook has a number of weird robots, such as the Slaughterbot (crab-shaped), the Tracker (spider-like) and the Repair Drone (scorpion-like).
  • The Modron in Dungeons & Dragons are mechanical life forms - so they manage to be Starfish Aliens and Starfish Robots simultaneously. One of the stages is even starfish shaped.
  • Champions adventure Deathstroke. The super villains' base has small robot drones that resemble insects.

    Videogames 
  • The Charybdis / Ceph from Crysis are distinctly cephalopod-like in appearance, and their robots reflect this at first, resembling the Sentinels from The Matrix more than anything. As of Crysis 2, they've adopted a Powered Armor system that looks like a cross between the original machines and a humanoid form.
  • Metroid Prime Hunters has robots on the Vesper Defense Outpost that resemble pillars with several short legs.
  • The geth from Mass Effect have some pretty strange designs, ranging from the Armature to the larger geth platforms. The standard geth mobile platform, however, bears marked similarities to the quarians (the original creators of the geth).
    • The inner core of Reapers seem to end up taking a form similar to whatever species was ground up into nutrient paste to make them. However, the outer shell of adult Reapers turn out looking like giant robot squids. They fit the trope in any case (and rather better than the Geth, for that matter).
      • But then it's subverted again when you find out their origin. Turns out, they actually looked like (slightly!) scaled-up versions of the species that formed the first Reaper, the Leviathans. The Leviathans are true Starfish Aliens.
  • The Beetleworx from Epic Mickey, especially the Spinners and Tankers. Spinners have tick-like bodies and a wheel at the bottom; if Mickey gets too close, they use the wheel to travel as the legs become spinning blades. Tankers are mobile gatling gun turrets, some of which have paint jobs based on the Queen from Snow White.
  • Dr. Eggman of Sonic the Hedgehog has been so ridiculously prolific in animal-themed and outright abstract robots that he may very well have half of the examples in existence of this trope:
    • The iconic Crabmeats and Buzz Bombers in the original game's Green Hill Zone, based on crabs and hornets, respectively.
    • The Orbinaut is another staple enemy, a hovering round sphere surrounded by four spiked spheres. There have since been fire and ice variants.
    • Asteron, which actually IS modeled after a starfish, is found in Sonic 2. They approach Sonic from inside a wall and explode before Sonic can hit it.
    • The firefly trio in Sonic CD. They shoot lasers simultaneously when their abdomens are lit.
    • Spikebonker in Sonic 3 & Knuckles is a mace-tossing floating black cylinder with eyes and a big cone at the bottom. Toxomister from the same game is based on a spray can and emits clouds of Ring-draining smoke.
    • The Bouncer, a boss in Sonic Chaos. The best description for this is a constantly-jumping round vaguely bird-like thing that spits out trios of hopping seagull robots.
    • Ticktock in Knuckles Chaotix is a floating cuckoo clock with a spiked pendulum weight. The boss of Amazing Arena is a sentient projector screen that can spontaneously create enemies displayed on it. The boss of Speed Slider is a demented merry-go-round.
    • Bladed Spinners in Sonic Adventure are stationary hovering robots who have razor-sharp propeller blades. Like Orbinauts, these have also become a staple of Eggman's robot forces. A lightning variant has since been made, completing the Fire, Ice, Lightning trifecta. From the same game, Zero is an antagonist to Amy Rose, a resilient human-sized green robot whose only human traits are that it has two arms and a head (albeit a gigantic and heavy one).
    • Golas and Unidus in Sonic Adventure 2 are essentially Orbinauts turned 90 degrees, their spinning balls of hurt now parallel with the floor.
    • Metal Madness and Metal Overlord in Sonic Heroes, the two powered-up forms of Metal Sonic. In these forms, he looks like what a robotic Sonic would look like if he were a giant dragon.
    • Little Fighters, in Sonic Unleashed, are disembodied hands of the (humanoid) Egg Shooters after the Shooters have been defeated. They are still able to function on their own to try to attack Sonic.
    • The Rotatatron and Refreshinator in Sonic Colors are huge robots modeled after Ferris wheels (to fit with Eggman's amusement park motif of the game). They trap Sonic inside and shoot lasers from the center of the wheel. Orcan and Skullian are autonomous twin zeppelins equipped with machine guns and can dump their cargo of spiked mines, with the Skullian's added ability to create portals.
    • SCR-GP and SCR-HD in Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity are xenomorph-looking robots that can tuck into a wheel shape to travel at speeds comparable to Sonic.
    • Aside from Eggman, G.U.N. is an international military organization that sometimes has to cross paths with Sonic and other characters. Aside from the Hunters, all of G.U.N.'s robots are non-humanoid in appearance, from the hovering ovaloid Beetles (which only vaguely resemble them); to the Hawks, which are two rocket-propelled tanks with an energy ball spitting mechanism between them; to the Artificial Chaos, roughly six-foot tall cybernetic blue blobs, some of which can shoot lasers. These machines appear in Sonic Adventure 2 and Shadow the Hedgehog.
  • Almost all robots in the Descent series fall under this trope. The reason for this is that Descent's robots are "genuine" robots in a man-against-machine plot about mining- and industrial- robots gone mad as oposed to the censored humans in most fiction (like the German versions of Half-Life or Red Alert). It would be shorter to count the few human properties of the Descent robots than telling that is nonhuman in them.
    • A recurring robot-type are the Hulks. A bulky central metal-block with a cannon on each side which is used for explosive deposite in mines.
    • Several robots in Descent I and II are called spiders because they have some kind of legs for picking up rubble. However they only remotly resemble spiders.
    • Some robots have binocular cameras, that look remotely like eyes, but most have Knight Rider -style scanners.
    • The Class-1-Driller looks slightly like a floating head of a dog. In place of the muzzle it has the muzzles of gatling gun.
    • Descent II has a robot called Pig. However to view it as a pig, a lot of fantasy is required.
    • Some Robots in all three Parts have a middle block sourounded by a several arms (not necessary symmetrical) with large blades, used for mining purposes.
    • The Guide-Bot in Descent-II and III has three triangular blocks connected to a central jet-engine. It is sometimes nicknamed "Wingnut"
    • The Bandit has a central brown block containing the engine, and a three claws (like a claw game) with spikes attached to it.
    • One robot in Descent 3 is called "the Homunculus". A homunculus is, more or less, an Artificial Human. This is what it looks like. The only thing even remotely human-looking about it is the fact that it has two arms.
    • The final boss of Descent 3 is a somewhat squid-like Humongous Mecha, as seen here.
  • The Aurum in Kid Icarus: Uprising is a race of robots from space that are all quite strange. Some look like wheels, some look like triangles, some are strange things that wave at Pit.
  • In Endless Space, the Sowers are a race of terraforming robots, with spherical bodies with numerous protrusions along their front. Their leader appears to be three separate Sower bodies melded together.

     Web Original 
  • Orion's Arm is replete with these. Though, since most of them are sentient, they wouldn't be classified as robots in the setting's terminology ('robot' implies non-sentience), they'd be called vecs.

    Real Life 
  • Nearly all commercial and industrial robots look nothing like any Earth life form. However, some design aspects carry over; for instance, many such robots have an "arm" (or two, or several) with joints at both ends and in the middle.
  • Most things that can be called 'robots' in Real Life in fact are this, since they're machines built for a purpose and their form usually follows their function, with the 'robot' aspect simply being due to their autonomous or semi-autonomous artificial intelligence control. From drone aircraft, to space probes and Mars rovers, to Roombas, none of them really resemble existing animals or humans - and most of the ones that do are specifically built to mimic those biological forms.
  • Robotics researchers often try to duplicate the locomotion of an animal: insects are popular, because their brains are very simple, and because it's easier to make a legged robot not fall over when it can have at least three feet on the ground at all times.
  • One robot that inventors have built is monopedal. How does it move? Pogo stick style.


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alternative title(s): Starfish Robot
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