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Single-Task Robot

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Robots that can make very specific works.

This trope has been Launched!
Proposed By:
kordova on Oct 9th 2011 at 5:57:04 AM
Last Edited By:
Basara-kun on Jan 26th 2018 at 3:31:23 AM
Name Space: Main
Page Type: Trope

Robots can be done to make a lot of different works, some of them can make a lot of tasks at the same time, but the majority of them are designed for only one task. This trope is about robots designed to do only one (very specific) work by their creators. They could be for personal service (and fetishes), for business, sports, entertainment and even for war. No matter which task they're created, they're supposed to do only that thing and notthing else.

Contrast Do-Anything Robot, which is the opposite of this trope. Compare In the Future, We Still Have Roombas, which is about how robots are nondescript machines for mundane labor. Related to Superpowered Robot Meter Maids, Robot Soldier and Mecha-Mooks. See also Crippling Overspecialization in the case of humans.


Examples

    open/close all folders 

    Film - Animated 
  • In WALL•E, most robots have a specific function. Wall-E himself is designed to process trash, despite having an AI capable of falling in love.

    Film - Live Action 
  • In Star Wars, there are assassin droids, protocol droids, starship navigation droids, etc. However, most droids are more than capable of many tasks, they're just designed for one primary purpose.
  • Blade Runner features some of the most humanlike robots ever conceived (in fact, one might argue they're not really robots but Gattaca Babies used as slaves under the pretext of technology), but in their profile, each is listed as being designed for a specific role in society.

    Literature 
  • Red Dwarf has "The Talkie Toaster", which can do anything you want, so long as all you want is toasted bread products.
  • Isaac Asimov's Caliban is set in a world with lots of robots, but the fact of the matter is that robots are so cheap and omnipresent and slavelike that people use them in situations where they don't need a robot.
    I have seen robots - functional, capable robots - told to stand underwater and hold the anchorline of a sailboat. I know a woman who has one robot whose sole duty is to brush her teeth for her, and hold the brush in between times.
  • The plot of "The Proud Robot" by Henry Kuttner revolves around an eccentric inventor setting out to create a simple device for a single purpose, and going overboard and ending up with a Do-Anything Robot with all kinds of extra abilities — which refuses to obey any order not relating to the original single purpose.

    Music 
  • Stephen Moore recorded the single Marvin in 1981, as an homage to Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Although capable of more in the book, the second stanza mentions only one task specifically:
    "Ten billion logic functions, maybe more.''
    "They make me pick the paper off the floor."

    Tabletop Games 
  • In Warhammer 40,000 You can become one - since (after one inevitable machine rebellion) creating true A Is is considered a blasphemy, tasks that would be given to single-task robots are instead given to servitors - cyborg slaves lobotomised to keep them "single purpose" and focused on their tasks.

    Video Games 
  • The Fal'Cie from Final Fantasy XIII are half-organic, half-mechanical beings. They are created with a specific task, and despite being sentient, cannot go against that task. For example, Phoenix' task is to act as the sun, Kujata's is to be a power plant, and Carbuncle's is to oversee the food production system. There are also many minor, unnamed Fal'Cie whose task is as mundane as automatic doors.
  • Mega Man
    • Mega Man (Classic): Many of the robots Mega Man fights were meant to do a specific task before being modified for combat use. E.g Guts Man was used to work on construction sites to lift heavy weights and rocks, Dynamo Man was used as emergency power source and a tour guide to power plants (he especially likes guiding children around), Crystal Man was Dr. Wily's source of income by forming crystals that he can sell away, etc.
    • Played With in Mega Man X: On the one hand, the Reploids' thought process is similar to a human in that they can potentially choose what job to take. On the other hand, for those reploids which are designed to look like humanoid animals, their bodies are often fitted with capabilities that seem like they could only do a certain task or a selection from a few. For example, Storm Eagle, with his flight and wind powers, fits his job on being a commander of an air force unit, while Chill Penguin, with his ice powers, is tasked with exploring the Antarctic. Some chooses not to follow this pattern, i.e Grizzly Slash working as an Arms Dealer (his claw and drill at least helps creating the cave for his secret base) or Infinity Mijinion (a small reploid who can multiply himself) working to design and man large weaponry.
  • Colobot has various types of robots who, aside from being able to freely move around, are designed for a very specific type of task and can only perform that one type of task. This includes:
    • Target bots, whose entire purpose is to be something to shoot at;
    • Transporter bots, who can grab onto things and thus transport them;
    • Sniffer bots, who can only examine the ground underneath them for minerals;
    • Shooter bots, who are only able to shoot at things;
    • Subber bots, who can grab onto things that are underwater;
    • Recycler bots, who can recycle destroyed bots and recover resources from them;
    • Shielder bots, who can create a protective shield around themselves;
    • Thumper bots, who can hit the ground underneath them and send a shockwave that will stun enemy lifeforms around them.
  • Factorio available on Steam involves the player building robots to extract materials from an alien world with which to assemble a spaceship and stock it with sufficient provisions. Of course, each robot can only perform one task: digging, drilling, plowing, seeding, et cetera. Further robots must be built whose sole purpose is to convey one robot's output to another robot for further processing; this is likely to include an automated railroad for moving materials in bulk. All these mostly stationary robots, however, impinge on the planet's wildlife, causing them to revolt and stampede these robots to reclaim their territory. This necessitates constructing defense robots to impede the renegade critters.

    Western Animation 
  • Futurama
    • Bender "Bending" Rodriguez was designed and built specifically for bend metals. In theory he's supposed to be a bending-unit, that is only capable of bending girders. In practice, not so much. It's occasionally brought up that he is supposed to be just for bending stuff, but only when Rule of Funny requires it.
    • Other known examples of robots designed for one only job include Robot Santa, Hedonism Bot, Don Bot, Robot Devil and Kwanzaabot.
    • An extreme example: the world champion baseball batter is a robot that is simply a box with an arm holding the bat. When Fry and Leela complain it has an unfair advantage, Bender accuses them of prejudice.
  • My Life as a Teenage Robot have various one-job robots seen on the series, mostly seen at a technology exposition.
  • Rick and Morty features a robot whose sole purpose is to pass the butter to Rick when Rick is having breakfast.

    Real Life 
  • In Real Life, robots designed for a specific job are Truth in Television, because robots capable of handling many jobs have proven more difficult to design than simple robots that only do one thing better than a human. It's often the software, rather than the hardware, that's the challenge.
    • Automatons are entertainment robots that appear to be capable of many tasks, but on close examination are actually repeating the same movements over and over again, until they are turned off and reprogrammed. Newer models can store many minutes of action, so it's not always easy to tell (They can seem startlingly lifelike, as seen here).
    • Industrial robots, often used in the auto industry, as seen here, usually have a very specific function, such as a robot that only does spot welds or only applies a certain color of paint. Of course, if necessary, they can be taken offline, equipped with different tools, and reprogrammed for a different task, but that usually only happens when the assembly line is tasked with a new model.
    • Some military / police robots are also specialists, such as a robot that locates and either deactivates, removes, or sets off car bombs, as seen here.
  • Before the microchip revolution, futurists thought that all of a home's automated devices would be controlled by a master computer. Now your stove has it's own computer, as does your coffee maker, your entertainment center, your phone, etc. It was Asimov who thought that it would be "easier" to build all-purpose humanoid robots that could do all the tasks then done manually, rather than giving everything it's own special purpose "brain". May never happen unless self-replicating general AI becomes possible.

Feedback: 33 replies

Oct 9th 2011 at 8:00:24 AM

Real Life: before the microchip revolution, futurists thought that all of a home's automated devices would be controlled by a master computer. Now your stove has it's own computer, as does your coffee maker, your entertainment center, your phone, etc. It was Asimov who thought that it would be "easier" to build all-purpose humanoid robots that could do all the tasks then done manually, rather than giving everything it's own special purpose "brain". May never happen unless self-replicating general AI becomes possible.

Oct 9th 2011 at 8:04:46 AM

Needs Better Examples than all these X Just X ones.

  • Isaac Asimov's Caliban is set in a world with lots of robots, but the fact of the matter is that robots are so cheap and omnipresent and slavelike that people use them in situations where they don't need a robot.
    I have seen robots - functional, capable robots - told to stand underwater and hold the anchorline of a sailboat. I know a woman who has one robot whose sole duty is to brush her teeth for her, and hold the brush in between times.

Oct 9th 2011 at 8:08:22 AM

Some thoughts:

Film - Animated:

  • In Wall E, most robots have a specific function. Wall-E himself is designed to process trash, despite having an AI capable of falling in love.

Film - Live Action:

  • In Star Wars, there are assassin droids, protocol droids, starship navigation droids, etc. However, most droids are more than capable of many tasks, they're just designed for one primary purpose.
  • Blade Runner features some of the most humanlike robots ever conceived (in fact, one might argue they're not really robots but Gattaca Babies used as slaves under the pretext of technology), but in their profile, each is listed as being designed for a specific role in society.

Real Life:

In Real Life, robots designed for a specific job are Truth In Television, because robots capable of handling many jobs have proven more difficult to design than simple robots that only do one thing better than a human. It's often the software, rather than the hardware, that's the challenge.

  • Automatons are entertainment robots that appear to be capable of many tasks, but on close examination are actually repeating the same movements over and over again, until they are turned off and reprogrammed. Newer models can store many minutes of action, so it's not always easy to tell (They can seem startlingly lifelike, as seen here).
  • Industrial robots, often used in the auto industry, as seen here, usually have a very specific function, such as a robot that only does spot welds or only applies a certain color of paint. Of course, if necessary, they can be taken offline, equipped with different tools, and reprogrammed for a different task, but that usually only happens when the assembly line is tasked with a new model.
  • Some military / police robots are also specialists, such as a robot that locates and either deactivates, removes, or sets off car bombs, as seen here.

Oct 9th 2011 at 8:09:44 AM

I think the name Single Task Robot is a bit clearer and easier to search for.

Oct 9th 2011 at 5:45:05 PM

Can happen to s Single Task Robot if they're moved to a new environment, yes.

Oct 9th 2011 at 7:48:32 PM

To clarify, is this specifically humanoid robots, who could seemingly do a wide variety of tasks, having a single specific purpose? Or does it include robots (like the real-life examples) that have been designed for a specific purpose and aren't actually capable of anything else?

Oct 9th 2011 at 7:50:56 PM

  • The plot of "The Proud Robot" by Henry Kuttner revolves around an eccentric inventor setting out to create a simple device for a single purpose, and going overboard and ending up with a Do Anything Robot with all kinds of extra abilities -- which refuses to obey any order not relating to the original single purpose.

Oct 12th 2011 at 4:07:24 PM

In Warhammer40000 You can become one - since (after one inevitable machine rebellion) creating true A Is is considered a blasphemy, tasks that would be given to single-task robots are instead given to servitors - cyborg slaves lobotomised to keep them "single purpose" and focused on their tasks.

Oct 13th 2011 at 5:44:52 AM

In theory Bender from Futurama, he's supposed to be a bending-unit, that is only capable of bending girders. In practice, not so much. It's occasionally brought up that he is supposed to be just for bending stuff, but only when Rule Of Funny requires it.

Oct 13th 2011 at 5:58:14 AM

Oct 14th 2011 at 5:49:09 AM

Other Futurama examples include Robot Santa, Hedonism Bot, Don Bot, Robot Devil and Kwanzaabot.

Dec 30th 2017 at 4:51:03 PM

Extreme Futurama example: the world champion baseball batter is a robot that is simply a box with an arm holding the bat. When Fry and Leela complain it has an unfair advantage, Bender accuses them of prejudice.

Dec 30th 2017 at 6:32:56 PM

Video Games

  • Factorio available on Steam involves the player building robots to extract materials from an alien world with which to assemble a spaceship and stock it with sufficient provisions. Of course, each robot can only perform one task: digging, drilling, plowing, seeding, et cetera. Further robots must be built whose sole purpose is to convey one robot's output to another robot for further processing; this is likely to include an automated railroad for moving materials in bulk. All these mostly stationary robots, however, impinge on the planet's wildlife, causing them to revolt and stampede these robots to reclaim their territory. This necessitates constructing defense robots to impede the renegade critters.

Dec 30th 2017 at 7:21:34 PM

  • The Fal'Cie from Final Fantasy XIII are half-organic, half-mechanical beings. They are created with a specific task, and despite being sentient, cannot go against that task. For example, Phoenix' task is to act as the sun, Kujata's is to be a power plant, and Carbuncle's is to oversee the food production system. There are also many minor, unnamed Fal'Cie whose task is as mundane as automatic doors.

Dec 31st 2017 at 7:59:09 AM

  • Capitalized the title.
  • Added a Description stub.
  • Corrected spelling (constuction).
  • Created Examples section and put examples in it.
  • Examples section

All of the OP examples are Zero Context Examples and have been marked as such. They need more information to show how they fit the trope. Please don't remove the marking unless you add enough context.

Dec 31st 2017 at 8:01:21 AM

Compare In The Future We Still Have Roombas, which is about how robots are nondescript machines for mundane labor.

Dec 31st 2017 at 9:38:56 AM

I like the idea of the draft, but I put it a bomb because OP can't expect to post something so vague and see how we complete HIS work (better ideas had been discarded here by using same OP's modus operandi).

If OP is still alive and complete more this, then I should change my bomb for a hat

Dec 31st 2017 at 3:31:13 PM

The factorio example is dubious. Most, if not all, of the mentioned tasks are not done by robots, but just machinery.

Jan 1st 2018 at 4:29:08 AM

^^ The OP kordova left TV Tropes back in 2011, so they won't be coming back and completing this.

Jan 1st 2018 at 6:54:50 PM

  • Rickand Morty features a robot whose sole purpose is to pass the butter to Rick when Rick is having breakfast.

Jan 17th 2018 at 2:47:00 PM

What about if I remake this draft with a better explanation and the examples here so this can be nuked later?? What do you think??

Jan 18th 2018 at 7:06:34 AM

Forget what I said ^, taken this draft as Up For Grabs. Added all the examples you posted and make a (slighty better) description. As said in the top, any addition to the description is welcome, as well more examples for anime and video games

Jan 18th 2018 at 10:02:42 AM

Superpowered Robot Meter Maids may be related

  • Mega Man Classic: Many of the robots Mega Man fights were meant to do a specific task before being modified for combat use. E.g Guts Man was used to work on construction sites to lift heavy weights and rocks, Dynamo Man was used as emergency power source and a tour guide to power plants (he especially likes guiding children around), Crystal Man was Dr. Wily's source of income by forming crystals that he can sell away, etc.

Question: as some examples came to talk about how the robot's AI is actually advanced enough to theoretically do multiple purposes, are they simply extra info or an actual, required part of the trope? (I wish not, but I have an interesting example regarding that)

Jan 18th 2018 at 12:40:13 PM

  • Colobot has various types of robots who, aside from being able to freely move around, are designed for a very specific type of task and can only perform that one type of task. This includes:
    • Target bots, whose entire purpose is to be something to shoot at;
    • Transporter bots, who can grab onto things and thus transport them;
    • Sniffer bots, who can only examine the ground underneath them for minerals;
    • Shooter bots, who are only able to shoot at things;
    • Subber bots, who can grab onto things that are underwater;
    • Recycler bots, who can recycle destroyed bots and recover resources from them;
    • Shielder bots, who can create a protective shield around themselves;
    • Thumper bots, who can hit the ground underneath them and send a shockwave that will stun enemy lifeforms around them.

Jan 18th 2018 at 4:15:00 PM

Music

  • Stephen Moore recorded the single Marvin in 1981, as an homage to Marvin the Paranoid Android from Douglas Adams' The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy. Although capable of more in the book, the second stanza mentions only one task specifically:
    "Ten billion logic functions, maybe more.
    "They make me pick the paper off the floor."

Jan 21st 2018 at 4:03:15 AM

^^^^I think both examples can be included here (Tropes Are Flexible, you know), so feel free to include those examples here

Jan 21st 2018 at 8:25:18 AM

^ Well then:

  • Played with in Mega Man X: On the one hand, the Reploids' thought process is similar to a human in that they can potentially choose what job to take. On the other hand, for those reploids which are designed to look like humanoid animals, their bodies are often fitted with capabilities that seem like they could only do a certain task or a selection from a few. For example, Storm Eagle, with his flight and wind powers, fits his job on being a commander of an air force unit, while Chill Penguin, with his ice powers, is tasked with exploring the Antarctic. Some chooses not to follow this pattern, i.e Grizzly Slash working as an Arms Dealer (his claw and drill at least helps creating the cave for his secret base) or Infinity Mijinion (a small reploid who can multiply himself) working to design and man large weaponry.

Jan 26th 2018 at 3:31:23 AM

Well, seems this draft is ready to be a trope. Launching during today, thanks to all for the help ;)

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