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Starfish Robots

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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 "manlike"), 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 Mechanical Insects, Spider Tank, Tripod Terror, and certain Tin Can Robots. Subtrope of Robot. See also Ambiguous Robots, Mechanical Abomination, Eldritch Starship.

Can overlap with Cute Machines or Adorable Abomination if the starfish robots are designed in a Rule of Cute way.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • While Zearth, 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. During one battle, the characters figure out that not even their robot necessarily has to be humanoid, it's just how they'd been using it all that time.
  • 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: The Series assemble are either mechanical versions of specific Pokémon or just plain ridiculous designs.
  • In the Gundam franchise 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.

    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.
  • Wonder Woman (1987): Robots seen in the Sangtee Empire shipping yard halls are fairly practical if top-heavy non-organic looking things that move on tracks and are covered in spires, which is quite a contrast from their space-ships which mostly look like mechanical fish.

    Films — Live-Action 
  • Demon Seed has a metal thing that resembles nothing so much as a Rubik's Snake toy.
  • CASE and TARS from Interstellar are tall, rectangular slabs divided into four vertical sections, with a monitor on the front. They are surprisingly mobile despite their boxy appearance, and can also unfold limbs that are normally flush with their surfaces. However, in terms of personality, they are Ridiculously Human Robots, speaking like a normal human without the traditional Computer Voice, crack jokes, and can express sarcasm and doubt.
  • In District 9 there is a robot suit a la Iron Man made by the aliens. The aliens have relatively human like body structure so the robot itself isn't quite the Starfish, but it does look grasshoppery and it even has tentacle things on its "mouth", even though they probably serve no purpose at all.
  • Runaway was one of the first films to depict household and workplace robots with non-humanoid designs being widely utilized in a contemporary setting.

  • 2-Tor, the robot that accompanies you in the Star Challenge books. It has a height of around a meter and looks quite similar to BB-8 of The Force Awakens fame,note  but it hovers instead of rolling, has a neck, and two big eyes not just one.

  • 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.
  • In Manifold: Space, the Gaijin's bodies are made up of irregular, asymmetrical dodecahedrons with a number of massive multi-jointed robotic arms. The Gaijin have existed for thousands of years, and their designs have slowly shifted, with newer Gaijin having different proportions and slight design differences to the older ones stemming from slow corruption and modification of their Recursive Creators nature.
  • In the Imperial Radch side novel Provenance, the Geck Starfish Aliens use robots that have a vaguely spidery shape; a disturbingly fluid number of tentacle-legs, eyes, and claws; and a distinctive whispery voice. Captain Tic Uisine's Electronic Telepathy implants let him control a small fleet of them at once with enough precision to give a friend a good haircut, which the protagonist Ingray finds endlessly disturbing.
  • Inverted in Dirk Gently's Holistic Detective Agency where the Electric Monk is a starfish robot from the perspective of his Starfish Aliens creators but looks human by coincidence.
  • In Rama II, one of the robots which maintain the space station is built of replaceable segments and looks like a centipede. When it returns to a spare parts point to exchange damaged legs and tools, Nicole jumps on its back and rides it to the top of the pit to escape. Her weight proves almost too heavy for it, and falls backwards a few times, but otherwise continues to go on. In contrast, other bots shaped like crabs, when captured by the crew, mount first a passive and then an aggressive defense, which ends in one crew member dead. The series has more of them; the robotic surgeon the humans bring is not humanoid, and the robots the crew mistakes for fellow cosmonauts at the end of the book are humanoid they are based off Newton crew members - but from the perspective of the Ramans who built them they are starfish robots.
  • In the Rocheworld novels, the Prometheus's AI operates an armitage called a "Christmas Bush,'' a Do-Anything Robot that consists of many tiny modules that communicate with color-coded light beams. It resembles a cross between a Giant Spider, a stick bug, and a christmas tree. It can also split up into many, ever-smaller variations, with functions such as a universal translator headset and a dental brace when one character gets her tooth knocked out.

    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 
  • Champions: In the adventure Deathstroke, the supervillains' base has small robot drones that resemble insects.
  • 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).
  • Dungeons & Dragons: The modrons are Mechanical Life Forms, so they manage to be Starfish Aliens and Starfish Robots simultaneously. They're so utterly devoted to the concept of cosmic Order that they're often fairly difficult for mortals to communicate with — modrons are single-mindedly focused on their assigned tasks, almost entirely unimaginative and unable to improvise, and literally incapable of thinking in terms of good and evil. None of them are humanoid except for Primus himself and his immediate underlings; common modrons resemble living geometric solids, while their immediate superiors have shapes reminiscent of unusual sea animals — one rank actually looks like starfish.

    Video Games 
  • Most robots in the Borderlands series tend toward Tin-Can Robot form factors, particularly Hyperion loader bots. CL4P-TP (Claptrap) falls somewhere in between; he's not humanoid and gets about on a single wheel, but he does have a torso (of sorts), two arms, and an eye. Constructor bots, however, are definitely Starfish Robots, having an angular egg-shaped body, one giant eye, and three insectoid legs.
  • 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.
  • 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 opposed to the human-like robots in most fiction (like the German versions of Half-Life or Red Alert). It would be easier to count the few human properties of the Descent robots than telling what is nonhuman about them.
    • A recurring robot-type are the Hulks. A bulky central metal-block with a cannon on each side which is used for explosive deposit 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 remotely 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 surrounded 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.
  • Doom³: The sentry bot is a dog-sized construct with a small body and a huge elongated head right on top of it, with no recognizable features if you don't consider its headlight as an eye. It skitters along the ground like a spider with its four three-toed legs, and attacks threats with a machinegun nestled under its chin.
  • 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.
  • 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 and the Seven Dwarfs.
  • The Fallout series features the Mr. Handy line of floating butler robots with three radially equidistant arms (with a claw, buzz-saw, and flamethrower for household chores) and eyes. There's also a four armed variant which is inexplicably armed with a concealable minigun.
  • The Elastoid from Final Fantasy VIII is an autonomous anti-personnel weapon which resembles a floating bronze sphere with four "pliable metallic legs."
  • 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.
  • The Legend of Zelda
    • The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild features the Guardians, ancient Magitek machines originally constructed by the Sheikah to help their descendants battle Ganon, only for them to be possessed by Ganon and turned against Hyrule in the Great Calamity. The standard Stalker model has six segmented tentacle-like limbs and a central rotating laser turret, while a flying variant has several helicopter-like blades and an odd number of eyes. A smaller cousin of the Stalker found exclusively in Shrines can have up to three arms for carrying weapons and shields. It should be noted that this variant is designed specifically as a test for Link.
    • Hyrule Warriors: Age of Calamity introduces a diminutive Guardian as an ally of Zelda and the Champions. It basically resembles a smaller, armless version of the Shrine Guardians with the addition of a piston that it moves up and down the top of its "head" to produce vocalizations and even complete melodies.
  • Mass Effect
    • The geth 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. 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 Remnant of Mass Effect: Andromeda don't have any particular defined shape beyond "not humanoid". Assemblers are the closest to looking humanoid, and they're a pair of legs with their "head" where the waist would be.
  • Metroid Prime: Hunters has robots on the Vesper Defense Outpost that resemble pillars with several short legs.
  • One Must Fall 2097 has fairly normal looking human-shaped robots, with one notable exception: the Flail, a design which must be seen to be believed. Its Cephalothorax is a fanged skull. It has two poles coming out of its shoulders, to which giant industrial chains are attached. It has unusually detailed hands shaped like those of a human skeleton. It has a simple telescoping post for a body. Finally, it rides around on two giant monster truck wheels, like some sort of homicidal Segway.
  • 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 the Hedgehog 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.
  • Stellaris: Only three of the Machine racial portraits are humanoid, the rest look like mechanical versions of some of the reptilian, arthropod, avian, fungoid, molluscoid, and even plantoid species in the game. For bonus points, the molluscoid robots look like literal jellyfish, with a glass globe at the top over bionic tentacles.
  • XCOM: Enemy Within added the Seeker to the alien army, a hovering, tentacled robot that uses its Invisibility Cloak to sneak up on and strangle lone soldiers. The Cyberdiscs in the main game may be an example, since they unfold from their "flying saucer" form into a mass of energy cannons and sensor spines, but even XCOM's science team isn't sure whether they're true robots or Silicon-Based Life.
  • Might and Magic VII had robots that could be described as 'a box with blaster with four roxxors as legs and dinosaur skull with exposed vertebrae attached to it'. Sixth game had relatively normal robots in comparison, but, them being floating spheres with guns on top, they still qualify.

    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.

    Western Animation 
  • Amphibia: The Core in its original form was a multi-eyed spherical robot with robotic tentacles and glowing orange eyes with lighter shaded pupils, it is way bigger than even King Andrias himself.
  • Infinity Train: The Steward is a mysterious robot that looks like a human-like head with eyes of fire that propels itself by a cluster of tentacles.

    Real Life 
  • These are the norm in Real Life, not the exception. Despite their prevalence in science fiction, life-like robots are very hard to build in real life (especially those that walk on two feet like a human; balance is a huge engineering obstacle). Most things that can be called 'robots' in Real Life (like commercial or industrial robots) look nothing like any Earth life form, 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. Even for utilitarian robots, 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.
  • 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.
  • Somewhat recently, engineers have been able to create an actual starfish-like robot that is capable of recognizing damage to itself, and changing its movement accordingly.
  • Nearly universal in Robot Combat sports, as non-animal-like designs usually prove more stable and sturdy than legged or otherwise life-mimicking forms.

Alternative Title(s): Starfish Robot