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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 and Tripod Terror. Subtrope of Robot.
Anime and Manga
- Most of the robots that Team Rocket from Pokémon assemble are either mechanical versions of specific Pokemon or just plain ridiculous designs.
- 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.
- 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.
Films — Animated
- Some of the robots from WALL-E.
Films — Live-Action
- 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.
- 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 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.
- 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 Reimagined 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.
- 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 and 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.
- 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.
- Somewhat averted by the standard geth mobile platform, however, which bears marked similarities to the quarians (the original creators of the geth).
- The Reapers seem to end up taking a form similar to whatever species was ground up into nutrient paste to make them. Curiously though, ALL the adult reapers seen so far look like giant robot squids. They fit the trope in any case (and rather better than the Geth, for that matter).
- 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 the Hedgehog 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 and 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.
- The final boss of Descent 3 is a somewhat squid-like Humongous Mecha, as seen here. In fact, many of the series' robots qualify.
- Orions 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.
- 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 basically 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.