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Talking Lightbulb

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The Talking Lightbulb is some visual effect, often a simple blinking light, that flickers away whenever a robot or computer speaks, for no reason other than to look cool. Maybe it's supposed to help the audience focus on a character that doesn't move its face when it speaks, generally because it has no face. It is often used in combination with Robo Speak. Can be justified as a user-friendly feature, since for people on both sides of the Fourth Wall, it's the simplest way to make obvious at a glance which one is speaking when several robots, computerized appliances, and talking alarm clocks are around.

Compare Head Bob, Action Figure Speech. For literal talking lightbulbs, see Animate Inanimate Object.


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    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Books 
  • The Richie Rich villain Dr. N-R-Gee is a human being with a lightbulb for a head. In his origin story, he was a scientist who was trying out an electric head scratcher with an experimental power generator that somehow electricuted him, and when he came to, he found out that his head has been replaced with a head-sized lightbulb.

    Film Live-Action 
  • One Trope Codifier is Robbie the Robot, who debuted in Forbidden Planet. Robbie looked like a thickset suit of armor that had had a jukebox dropped on it and, like a jukebox, had an impressive light-show built in. This included a roughly mouth-placed panel of lights that flashed in rhythm with his speech, which had a moderate Robo Speak accent.
  • R2-D2 in Star Wars has a light next to his speaker that changes from blue to red as he talks.
  • All SAINT robots in Short Circuit are equipped with a mouth cover. Nr. 5 loses his one early in the film, revealing a series of LEDs that light up when he talks.
    • Johnny 5 refers to them as "lip lights".
  • Bit from TRON can fit this. As a bit, he is only capable of two responses—"yes" or "no"—and each response is accompanied by a change of shape: a yellow octahedron for "yes", or a red spiked 3D shape for "no".

  • From the German children's storybooks Birne kann alles (Lightbulb can do anything), the titular Birne is quite literally, a walking, talking lightbulb.

    Live-Action TV 
  • Doctor Who:
    • The Daleks (who are actually aliens in Powered Armour) have head-lamps that flash with the rhythm of their speech.
    • The classic series incarnation of the Silurians, who have a third eye in their foreheads that lights up. Silurians aren't robots, but Lizard Folk.
    • Some versions of the Doctor's robot dog K9 have this feature.
    • All versions of the Cybermen introduced in the new series have their mouths light up when they speak.
    • The altered (or "processed") Ood's translation devices light up when they speak.
    • In "Legend of the Sea Devils", the only Sea Devil who talks has a pendant that lights up when he's talking. Though special effects have improved since the Classic series, the head isn't articulate enough to mimic human speech. The pendant may be acting as a Universal Translator.
  • KITT, the robotic car from Knight Rider, had and has a Talking Lightbulb speech display in both series. The original used a series of LED lights similar to a graphic equalizer, while the new one was an extra-cool plasma display.
  • The Robot from Lost in Space looked a great deal like Robbie, including the glass-dome-lightshow head and the Talking Lightbulb "mouth".
    • At Paul Allen's Science Fiction Museum there's a display with Robbie and The Robot next to each other. They converse with each other on various subjects.
  • The talking toaster in early series of Red Dwarf.
  • Star Trek: The Original Series:
    • The ship's computer displayed an oscilloscope display when it spoke (in heavy Robo Speak). Also, in the famous episode "The Menagerie", the infirm Captain Pike, in a futuristic wheelchair, can only communicate with brainwaves translated by the wheelchair - one beep for 'yes', two for 'no'.
    • In the episode "The Changeling", the intelligent space probe Nomad has green flashing lights all the time, as well as yellow and red lights when it speaks.
  • London's identical, sarcastic, talking stand mirrors from The Suite Life of Zack & Cody and The Suite Life on Deck were surrounded by Talking Lightbulbs, in the manner of a typical frame-lit vanity mirror.
  • In Kamen Rider Double, due to the titular hero being a Sharing a Body-style Fusion Dance of two characters, with Philip's soul entering Shotaro's body, Double's right eye lights up whenever Philip speaks. When using FangJoker, the roles are reversed, putting Shotaro's soul in Philip's body. As a result, FangJoker's left eye lights up whenever Shotaro speaks. CycloneJokerXtreme goes plays the fusion straight with both characters' bodies fusing together, resulting in either eye lighting up according to which person is speaking.
  • Some aliens in the Ultra Series have glowing patches on their bodies that light up when they talk, with the most famous examples being Alien Mefilas and Alien Metron.

  • The CGI music video to the Dire Straits song "Money for Nothing" has the shorter and fatter hardware store worker speaking this way. His mouth is a black strip that flashes white when he speaks.


    Video Games 
  • In the Bill Nye the Science Guy computer game Stop the Rock!, when the computer you had to convince humans were worth saving from a giant asteroid spoke, the screen it was using flashed large pixels expanding from the center, with color and number corresponding to volume.
  • Mass Effect:
    • Tali'Zorah's helmet (and all Quarian suits for that matter) has a light that flashes in sync with her speech. Justified in that Quarian helmets obscure the face and as they wear them near-constantly it would make group conversations highly confusing.
    • The Volus also have flashing lights, for exactly the same reason.
    • The Geth, which were designed by the Quarians, also have this. Or at least, Legion does.
      • As of Mass Effect 3, it is shown that any Geth with the ability to speak has this.
    • Also in this category is Shepard's Blood Dragon Armornote , which has a helmet with an opaque visor.
  • Clanky from Backyard Sports has a lightbulb on his head which flashes in sync whenever Clanky "speaks."
  • Halo. The Monitors' eye light in the center of their 'body' flashes in sync with their speech. Funnily enough, a glitch in Halo 2 reversed it, causing the light to dim instead whenever they spoke. Johnson addresses Monitor 343 Guilty Spark as "lightbulb" because of the effect.
  • A non-technological example: when Protoss characters in Starcraft talk, their eyes flash and change colors. Protoss have no mouths and speak telepathically, so the eye glow serves as a nice visual aid during mission briefings.
  • Warframe features a few variations. Cephalons do this by default, being data-based artificial intelligences with no human avatars. Your MOA companion can also do this, lighting up when it beeps at you. The debt-slaved Solaris of Fortuna light up when they talk because none of them seem to have normal human heads. Finally, mysterious space DJ Nora Night has flashing accessories that light up during her short transmission clips to you.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 3: The party's combined Ouroboros forms have no mouths, but both members of a fusion can speak from within regardless of who's in charge, causing one of the gestalt's eyes to light up. When the left eye flashes, the Agnian member is speaking, and when the right eye flashes, the Kevesi member is speaking.

    Web Video 

    Western Animation 
  • Many of the robots in Futurama have this effect. Bender is the one exception, he has a panel with a wave similar in appearance to an oscilloscope that is lipsynched to his speech. Futurama also parodied "The Menagerie"'s wheelchair when the characters had to testify in court in "Where No Fan Has Gone Before".
  • Karen, Plankton's computer wife in SpongeBob SquarePants, uses the oscilloscope version.
  • The Thing, in Cosgrove Hall's adaptation of Truckers, zig-zags between this and more complicated light patterns and projections, since a larger model is used for close ups.
  • Transformers:
    • Some Transformers without normal mouths are like this. The most notable is Wheeljack.
    • Also (in at least some series), when a Transformer speaks in vehicle mode, whatever applicable form of headlight will flash in rhythm with the words.
  • The Visor Robot from Homestar Runner. An Easter Egg at the end of one cartoon starring it even revealed its voice box to be a red lightbulb after it exploded.
  • Whatever Happened to... Robot Jones? had the titular character's eyes flash when he spoke.
  • Ice Man from Mega Man (Ruby-Spears) had a white strip on his face, that glowed ice-blue when he spoke.
  • Junkman, and his bumbling lackeys from The Incredible Crash Dummies had mouth-plates that flashed whenever they talked.
  • In Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer, ON-X (pronounced like "onyx"), the mechanical flyingnote  horse speaks with a talking electronic mane.
  • In the 1960s Aquaman cartoons from Filmation, recurring villain Manta spoke like this, with the eyes of his helmet lighting up. Later averted when he appeared in Super Friends as Black Manta, where they used a Head Bob instead.
  • Filmation's Ghostbusters: Prime Evil has a metal jaw and a Jacob's ladder/oscilloscope in place of a mouth, with power flowing between two electrodes when he speaks.

    Real Life 
  • Ringing Lightbulbs are standard equipment for the residences of the hard of hearing. Many flash in different patterns or colors, to distinguish whether it's the doorbell, the telephone, or the fire alarm that's out to attract the occupant's attention.
  • The Amazon Echo does this to let the user know that it is listening to their commands.
  • Cellular phones will often use flashing lights, in the form of an LED or the phone's screen (sometimes both at once) in conjunction with the ringtone and vibrating function in order to get the owner's attention. Some phones can be programmed to flash the light in different colors and patterns based on why it needs your attention (missed call, text message, email, Facebook update, etc.)
  • Many electronic children's toys with sound chips in them also have parts on them that light up when "speaking".


Video Example(s):


Red Dwarf: Lister can't sing

Lister's toaster speaks (and sings) through the blinking lightbulb on its front.

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Main / TalkingLightbulb

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