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Tin-Can Robot

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There was a time when this sort of thing was taken seriously.

"In comes a Price Club-sized tin can with Slinky arms and legs, looking like the grandfather of Pimpbot 5000, buzzing with a menace that suggests he flunked Asimov 101."
Jim Wright's Star Trek: Voyager review of "Night"

The opposite of those human-looking robots such as the Robot Girl. This is a robot designed with function over form in mind — or at least, designed to look like it is.

Though most historical examples are technically humanoid in form,note  they still generally look like a trashcan or boiler with arms, legsnote  and a head — either distinct or fused to their torso — pasted onto it. This robot is usually not painted and it's often possible to easily see screw heads holding it together. Bonus points if the robot's arms are made of flexi-tube with pincers at the end.

Nowadays usually done to make the 'bot look amateur-made or old-fashioned, as the unwieldiness such machines (especially those played by costumed actors) displayed on-screen almost completely discredited this trope to modern audiences. However, in older Zeerust, it was often played straight.

Compare Used Future, Real Robot Genre. Compare and contrast with Starfish Robots. See also Forgot He Was a Robot for when this robot starts acting like a Ridiculously Human Robot. No relation to Tinman Typist.


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    Anime & Manga 
  • Digimon: Blikmon, which looks like a child's wind-up toy robot.
  • Gigantor is a clear example of this. His body exactly resembles a tin can, being perfectly cylindrical (except for his rockets) and made of bare metal, while his arms and legs are similar.
  • Likewise, Mitsuteru Yokoyama's other early Super Robot, Poseidon from Babel II.
  • Mechazawa from Cromartie High School. Despite being shaped like a large tin made of metal and needing to be constantly oiled, he and everyone else is blissfully unaware of his true nature. ...Or at least everyone's afraid to broach the issue with the school's toughest fighter directly.
  • Although Astro Boy himself doesn't count, many robots in his world do.
  • Auta Magetta in Dragon Ball Super sports this look, though various authority figures imply he's not actually a robot but naturally looks this way. Nevertheless, he makes a lot of mechanical sounds as he moves and speaks only in onomatopoeia of those mechanical sounds. As one of Universe 6's strongest fighters, Magetta is seemingly indestructible and has Magma Man powers, but he is very bulky and cannot fly.
  • Zatch Bell! made a toy one out of chopsticks and a Pretznote  box, which he named Vulcan 300.

    Comic Books 
  • Spider-Man:
    • Spider-Man once has to deal with the robot XP-2000, who is really obsolete compared to androids like The Vision and Ultron. Keep in mind that Ultron was designed in the 1970s, and Vision was built by Ultron. This says a lot about XP-2000 being designed obsolete. The original Ultron design was actually pretty in-line with this aesthetic, though.
    • Also the cobbled-together robots built by Future Max in Web of Spider-Man Annual #1. The one on the cover looks like the original Iron Man armour, with added hydraulic tubes.
    • Finally there's the silver-age Spider-Man villain The Living Brain, featuring the greatest mechanical mind 1964 could offer in the shape of a green box with arms, legs and a domelike head.
  • Magnus Robot Fighter: 4000 AD by Gold Key Comics has a future lousy with robot servants, almost all of them of the tin-can-humanoid variety, generally with flexi-tube or armored-cable limbs.
  • The lumbering warbots of Ashley Wood's World War Robot fit this trope to a T.
  • Tin Can Tommy from The Beano doesn't only fit this trope but has a name to match.
  • Elektro from Tales of Suspense and Fin Fang Four is a huge, roughly humanoid metal figure covered in visible rivets.
  • Gyro Gearloose's helper Little Bulb from the Disney Ducks Comic Universe has a metal torso, jointed limbs, and a lightbulb for a head.
  • The original version of Computo from Legion of Super-Heroes was a box on wheels, covered in dials, with another box for a head and hosepipe arms. Later versions generally avert this; in post-Zero Hour continuity C.O.M.P.U.T.O first appears as an angry face on a computer screen before possessing Triad, and the version that later appears as the leader of Robotica looks like a guy in armour with Kirby Dots for a head. The New 52 incarnation of Computo follows the latter appearance, despite having an almost competely different origin.

    Comic Strips 
  • The robots in Brewster Rockit: Space Guy! frequently fit this trope, especially Oldbot and the Killbots.
  • In Calvin and Hobbes, Calvin once builds a robot using a tin can for the head. Unfortunately, he doesn't know how to make one that does anything.

    Films — Live-Action 

In General:

By Movie:

  • Many droids in the Star Wars universe arguably count.
    • Power droids, and in particular the "gonk" droids.
    • R2-D2 is the ultimate example, being not much more than a metal cylinder on wheels. Doesn't stop him packing plenty of hardware though.
  • Too Much, the robot from Too Much: The Robot With a Heart, who bears a strong resemblance to R2-D2 from Star Wars.
  • In the 1982 schlocky Hong Kong comedy film, Winner Takes All, the protagonist who is The Gambler challenged a crime boss to an Absurdly High-Stakes Game of mahjong, where the loser will get decapitated by a descending blade. The crime boss agreed, but then reveals he had a tin-can robot assistant (who is programmed with the brains of six different mahjong champions) playing in his stead. No, the movie doesn't really make any sense.
  • The Tin Man from The Wizard of Oz. Whether or not he counts as a robot himself, he's quite possibly the Trope Maker.

  • Isaac Asimov and Janet Asimov's The Norby Chronicles: Norby is built into an old barrel of nails, and Jeff was able to purchase him for cheap because the salesman insists it "doesn't work right". He has a short head that pops out of the lid, with two eyes both front and back. He also has telescoping arms and legs that can retract fully into the barrel. He's almost literally a tin can turned into a robot.
  • Norwegian-English author Phillip Newth has written several books about a constantly-malfunctioning domestic servant robot named Matilda, who is described at least once a book as having a body shaped like a tin can and a head shaped like a smaller tin can. Matilda is a bit of an oddity in her books; robots are plentiful but usually look a lot more sophisticated or even just like humans. Matilda looks the way she does (and malfunctions so often) because she's old, "almost an antique."
  • The robots in Andy Buckets Robots look like this, because Andy made them with tin cans.
  • Land of Oz: Tik-Tok is one of the first robots to appear in modern literature, and he qualifies for this trope, being a riveted clockwork-powered sphere with a human-ish head and arms and legs bolted on. The Tin Woodsman also looks the part, but he is technically more a cyborg.

    Live-Action TV 
  • The Federation security robot in Blake's 7 which unfortunately was never as menacing as it was supposed to be, given the tendency of its arms to flap up and down as it moved, and the flamethrower that dropped out of its groin region which caused the production crew to dub it "The Flasher". Eventually the poor bot was restricted to a couple of close-up scenes in the early episodes.
  • This is a common monster template in Doctor Who, as they're a relatively easy "obviously non-human but not obviously just a guy in a suit' monster design:
  • Robot, from the Captain Helix Show Within a Show in Hyperdrive; unsurprising, given that it's a parody of Star Wars and cheap imitations of the same.
  • Robot from the original Lost in Space; danger, Will Robinson! Not Robby, but definitely Inspired by… him (though Robby himself appeared as an alien robot in one episode).
  • The robot that Grandpa and Eddie build in The Munsters episode "Tin Can Man" literally had arms and legs built out of tin cans.
  • In Mystery Science Theater 3000, Tom Servo's body is made out of a barrel-shaped piggy bank and a toy car engine block resting on a Halloween "Boo Bowl" base. He has an Eyeless Face and no feet; while the tiny hands on the end of his spring arms are human-shaped, they're quite useless.
  • Power Rangers:
    • Orbus and Klank from Power Rangers Zeo, plus Prince Sprocket and King Mondo himself. This is in contrast to the much less tin can-ish members of the Machine Empire.
    • Toy Org from Power Rangers Wild Force. He resembles a toy robot, yet is one of the Rangers' strongest foes.
  • Andy, the tin box robot on Quark. In the pilot episode, it mistakes a garbage control box for a potential Love Interest.
  • Red Dwarf: "Give And Take" gives us Snacky the snack-dispenser robot, who looks like a barrel with legs and feet and has an egg flipper on his head. Rimmer even comments that he looks like something out of a cheesy sci-fi movie.
  • Steampunk, one of the combatants in Robot Combat League, is a nod to this type of robot.
  • Sam the Robot from Sesame Street. This being Sesame Street, of course, he still has googly eyes and a bowtie.
  • In the Shining Time Station episode, "Schemer's Robot", Schemer buys this kind of robot, which he names Robbie, to run his arcade. Robbie keeps talking about food and falls in love with Schemer's jukebox. In the end, Schemer gives Robbie to Barton Winslow to work at his general store when Robbie falls in love with Barton's motorcycle.
  • Portrayed quite literally in The Sifl and Olly Show, where Sifl builds a robot actually made out of a tin can to use as a stand-in while he runs some errands, until Olly (who'd been getting increasingly annoyed with the arrangement) goes ballistic and destroys the robot in the middle of it singing the 1980s song "I Know What Boys Like" by The Waitresses.

  • Album covers and some Caravan Palace music videos feature retro-style metal robot.
    • In the music video of Caravan Palace - Rock It For Me, scientists and factory workers develop a very large tin can robot to fight off flying saucers.


    Pro Wrestling 
  • Taken one step further with Kaiju Big Battel's Robox, a mighty robot built from "Indestructible Cardboardium", i.e. a cardboard box with arms, legs, and a robot face built on.

  • Marvin the Paranoid Android from The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (1978) pretty much consigns himself to this as he's hopelessly taken for granted.
    Marvin: Do you want me to sit in a corner and rust or just fall apart where I'm standing?

  • Robot toys back then were mostly made of tins before the use of ABS and PVC plastics were common, making them the potential Trope Codifier. Back in post-WWI era, Japan and Germany were the primary manufacturers of tin toys, which are inexpensive and easy to create through mass production. While World War II halted the production of tin toys in Japan and Germany, it underwent a resurgence when the U.S. toy companies began outsourcing tin toy production to Japan after the war. Japanese toy manufacturers then started to innovate new tin toy designs by creating battery-powered and even remote-controlled toy robots. Nowadays, tin toy robots have become obsolete due to the use of cheaper materials such as ABS and PVC plastics becoming more prominent. However, this turned tin toy robots into valuable collector's items, and Metal House, the sole surviving tin robot manufacturer in Tokyo, is still manufacturing tin robots today.
  • This replica of Robby The Robot.
  • The Mr. Atomic Robot, as manufactured by Yonezawa (The predecessor of Tomy and subsequently TakaraTomy) and distributed by Cragstan in 1962, is an egg-shaped tin robot which moves while wiggling its legs, and it has headlights which changes colour.
  • LEGO Space: Until the release of android minifigures in 1994, all minifigure-scale robots in the setting were necessarily boxy, usually with a headlamp for a face, and a specific 'robot arm' element for the proper flexitube-and-pincers look.
  • The TinBot is a series of robot toys developed in Hong Kong, with a literal tin can as its body for the magnetic head and limbs to attach onto. All of the parts can be stored in the said tin can.

    Tabletop Games 
  • Isaac Asimov's Robots: The Sammy-type robot looks like someone is wearing a barrel over their body and flexitubes over their arms. Their fishbowl-like heads have a permanent smiley-face etched onto them, unlike their more realistic counterparts of Giskard or Daneel's design.
  • Paranoia: Jackobots (from "jack of all trades") are intended to be able to do the same physical things as humans, so they're basically humanoid in size and shape, but clearly mechanical. Other bots range from sorta humanoid (docbots, scrubots) to Sapient Ships (warbots, flybots).
  • Ancient Martian Robomen in Rocket Age can be sleek and graceful, but many of the non-service models were built with practicality and survivability in mind.
  • Combat, Janitorial and Animal Care robots in the Classic Traveller adventure Research Station Gamma.
  • Urban Jungle: The "Astounding Science" supplement states explicitly that robots built on 1930s Earth should be crude contraptions built from scrap metal by lone crackpots. More advanced civilizations like Telluria would build more streamlined robots.
  • Warhammer 40,000:
    • The Orks have Mini-Mecha (with an Ork welded inside) aptly known as Killa Kanz. Their Humongous Mecha are built to a similar design.
    • The Tau attack drones that look like flying trash lids.

    Video Games 
  • Amazon: Guardians of Eden: B.O.B. looks like two trash cans with added feet and will actually think you're also B.O.B. if you put a trashcan on your head. He was made in the 1950s, after all.
  • The final boss in Balloon Kid is this kind of robot.
  • Black The Fall: The Robot Buddy that starts accompanying the worker on his journey after exiting the factory looks like two boxes on four legs.
  • Borderlands:
    • The Atlas drones from the Secret Armory of General Knoxx DLC.
    • Most of the Hyperion bots from Borderlands 2. Claptraps would be an example if not for all the personality, though it's basically a chippy and personable UI wrapper built around a sociopathic core.
  • Malco, one of the control room guardians from Cave Story, is one.
  • EXTRAPOWER: Designed with this aesthetic in mind, being boxy and inelegant compared to modern mechanical mooks in Undata's wing. It's specifically marked as an obsolete model, and its physically limiting design even makes it less mobile than other robots.
  • The Robobrains from Fallout fit the bill, unusually having glass domes filled with a living brain for heads and very heavily resembling The Robot from Lost in Space. The Protectron models, meanwhile, look suspiciously like Robbie the Robot from Forbidden Planet. The Synths in Fallout 4 notably avert this by being distinctly humanoid, especially 3rd Generation Synths, which are nearly completely identical to humans in almost every way. Because A.I. Is a Crapshoot, this is a point of major contention for Wastelanders, who are used to dealing with the obviously artificial tin-can robots of the previous games.
  • Cronk and Zephyr, elderly Warbots who first appear in Ratchet & Clank Future: Tools of Destruction.
  • Metal Slug 3:
    • The Mars Robot in the final stage is one, they are intended to be expy of the Daleks, for being both Cyborg and this trope.
    • Also the giant blocky toy robot that's the end-boss of the factory level.
  • Robots from Machinarium are very much like that, especially the main character.
  • ION of Phoning Home has a cylindrical torso.
  • Total Annihilation has a model of robot which is actually called "The Can". It's pretty much a big metal box on legs, with a turret on top.
  • Train Your Minibot: The titular Minibot has a boxy head and torso.
    • Super Mario Galaxy and Super Mario Galaxy 2: The Gearmos are tin robots with cog-shaped heads and gauge-like eyes. While short-tempered, they're actually friendly; some of them will reward Mario and Luigi with Power Stars upon helping them or completing a minigame.
    • Mario Party 6: The minigame Body Builder has two teams of characters assemble a robot of this type in a factory. The parts used to assemble the robots are provided by a machine, but their pictures pass by like a slot machine, and each team's players have to press switches right when the glowing picture is spot on (as it indicates the next part to be extracted to build the robot). The player on the left has to extract the feet and torso, while the on the right has to extract the legs and head. The first team to assemble their robot wins; but if both manage to assemble them at the same time, the minigame ends in a tie.
  • Super Robot Thursday from Disgaea: Hour of Darkness fits this trope, as he, Captain Gordon, Defender of Earth!, and Jennifer are parodies of early science fiction series.
  • Mad Age & This Guy: The Mecha-Mooks the Player Character faces look like boilers and Roombas.
  • Oddworld's "Greeters" are a very literal version of the laconic, and resemble nothing so much as "a hot water heater on a unicycle." They're also the in-universe Stepford Smilers.
  • Pilot Kids, a video game where the players are Living Toys piloting RC planes shooting hostile toys, inevitably have plenty of robot toys resembling the classic tin can robots. Notably, the Boss Rush in the final stage is started with battling a vintage 1950s wind-up robot.
  • Scrap Garden has the appropriately-named Canny. He basically looks like a can with arms and legs.
  • Sonic the Hedgehog has many, most notably the E-100 series such as E-102 Gamma and E-123 Omega. Technically, these can be considered a sort of “self portrait” of their creator, but they’re still fairly tin-can shaped (with some embellishments), notably lacking a neck and having their heads stick straight out of their torso.
  • Metroid:
    • Super Metroid features these in the Wrecked Ship. They were round cylinders with legs and no arms.
    • The Tinbots, defenders of the Steampunk planet Elysia in Metroid Prime 3: Corruption, are exactly that; easily blown apart and even more easily melted once the Plasma Beam is acquired. The Steambots and Steamlord are less fragile.
  • Tears to Tiara 2 has Talos like the first game. We get one on our team called Calcos.
  • In The Deadly Tower of Monsters one of the three player characters is an old fashioned robot known simply as "The Robot."
  • Custom Robo on the Gamecube features the Oil Can Robo, a clunky, weak, slow Joke Character built from old steel drums, tin cans, and lead pipes. It's basically a rusty and barely humanoid mess, useful only for a Self-Imposed Challenge or Cherry Tapping an opponent.
  • The Roboids from the Future world of Cratermaze, complete with pincer hands.
  • The titular robot of Alien 8 resembles a flip-top rubbish bin with feet.
  • The Kohbu(/Eisenkleider/STARs/etc.) from the Sakura Wars series are trashcan-looking Humongous Mecha.
  • Mettaton in Undertale is described aptly as a "sexy rectangle"; despite looking like a vending machine on a unicycle with Trollface "shloopy" arms, he's considered Mr. Fanservice in-universe. Amusingly, he implies on the Genocide path that he considers this form more attractive than his Pretty Boy EX and NEO forms.
  • Xenoblade Chronicles 2: Poppi's initial form is like this (apart from the face). Later on she receives some upgrades that take her into Ridiculously Human Robot territory.
  • Funk Unplugged: Ampy has a friend who is a floating tin can.
  • Cuphead has Dr. Kahl's Robot who is metallic war robot designed to look like earlier robots.
  • Peppino robots in Pizza Tower are tin can variations of the main character, complete with flexible metallic arms and a single wheel.
  • Wordle's gameplay analysis tool, WordleBot, which is available to the player after finishing the day's puzzle, is represented as a light gray box with legs and a "face" consisting of a blinking display and three gray knobs.
  • Chrono Trigger features Robo, a burly robot from 2300 A.D. who looks more or less like a futuristic barrel with rubber-hose arms and legs.

    Visual Novels 

    Web Animation 
  • Homestar Runner: The Cheat Bot is not a real robot (being The Cheat with a metal can on top), but would be a perfect example if he were. The visor robot is a better example; in fact, most robots in the series would qualify, down to the Grape Nuts Robot (a "robot" made out of some LEDS and a Speak & Spell shoved inside a box of cereal with a slinky for an arm).


    Web Videos 

    Western Animation 
  • Transformers: Animated has literal Trashcan Robots that transport all of Detroit's waste.
  • B.O.T. from the infamous G1 Transformers episode of the same name.
  • Hovering medibot MC Rubbish from Wave Twisters, with a cylindrical limbless body and a spherical head topped by a red pith helmet. (His names—"Rubbish" and "Thrashcan"—in fact are a Lampshade Hanging of his shape.)
  • In Doctor Snuggles the robot built by the doctor, named Matilda Junkbottom, is quite literally made of tin cans, a wash basin and an old telephone, her head braided with sewing thread spools.
  • Futurama:
    • All bending units are perfect caricatures of 1950s-style movie-robots, with tin-can (and cocktail shaker) bodies, flexi-hose arms and legs, typical robot heads, and eyes clearly lifted from Crow T. Robot.
    • Fry encounters an actual trash can who also happens to be a self-aware robot.
  • There are several robots in the Looney Tunes/Merrie Melodies series like this — for instance, in "Robot Rabbit" and "Lighter Than Hare." (In the latter, Bugs Bunny even uses the robot as a trash can.)
  • Rosie the robot maid from The Jetsons. (There was also a male robot called Mac, made by Henry, the building janitor.)
  • Justice League: The episode "Legends" opens with the League fighting an anime-style Humongous Mecha. When the mecha blows up it throws them into a Retro Universe out of a 1940s comic — when a giant robot turns up there, it's the classic 1940s Tin-Can Robot.
  • The Master Cylinder, from Felix the Cat.
  • The Underdog short "March of the Monsters" had these, but it was never stated who the robots' master was.
  • The Fleischer Superman series features "The Mechanical Monsters", used by their inventor for a series of robberies.
  • The Simpsons: In the episode "I, (Annoyed Grunt)-Bot", Homer builds one of these out of a mailbox for Bart to enter in a Robot Wars-style TV show. Justified in that Homer was secretly working it from inside, having realized he had not the faintest idea how to actually build a robot. When it doesn't work, he instead wears it like armor and pretends to be a robot.
  • XJ-8 from My Life as a Teenage Robot. In comparison, her predecessors are mostly Starfish Robots, and her successor is a more streamlined fembot.
  • NEPTR from Adventure Time literally has a tin can Finn meant to be his "head" and drew a face on. When a lightning bolt brought it to life, its actual face ended up being elsewhere and the can-head is purely ornamental.
  • H.E.L.P.E.R. from The Venture Brothers, the epitome of the robot buddy as seen by pop culture in the 1950s. True to the spirit of the show, he was apparently actually built in the 50's and was described as "geriatric" and "senile".
  • In Samurai Jack, the earliest robots built for Aku looked like they were made of scrap parts, including tin cans. They weren't very reliable and could only move about for a few seconds before breaking down. They were not sentient, however, so there was no worry about it—the roboticists just went back and designed better robots. By the time Jack arrives in the Bad Future, automatons had become advanced enough that the only ones that didn't pass off as Ridiculously Human Robots were designed intentionally to be robot-like (some of whom also intentionally invoke Tin Can Robot style, such as Extor's wicker basket robots).
  • The Super Robot of Super Robot Monkey Team Hyperforce Go! has boxes for its head, body, and feet, extremely boxy hands and fingers, and tube arms. A late-series episode showed him to be the first in a line of several robots, with the most recent being a much sleeker and human-sized Robot Kid.