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In several fictional universes, if a robot or cyborg has to physically interface with a computer, a very long sharp metal spike is used, instead of a normal cable socket with multiple wires insulated from each other as we do in real life. Bonus points if that data connector doubles as a deadly weapon.

I don't remember any real-life data connector of that style (besides headphone jacks, but they are nowhere that big). Did such a thing really exist, and which fictional universe does it originate from as a standard robot's interface kit?

Robocop (1987) R2D2

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    R2-D2's SCOMP isn't a sharp metal spike... – Valorum Sep 25 at 20:55
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    The one in RoboCop is just a gag because it's designed to look like he's giving the middle finger gesture. That movie is a lot more tongue-in-cheek than most people remember. – Darrel Hoffman Sep 26 at 13:28
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    The Matrix spikes to the back of the head might make a good illustration If you don't like the Star Wars one. Definitely not the first to do it though as predated by Robocop by a longshot. – RyanfaeScotland Sep 26 at 14:45
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    Because cross-threading a coax socket or trying to insert a USB stick the wrong way around ten times in a row isn't terribly dramatic? – Snow Sep 26 at 15:04
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    @vsz: note that R2D2 has no arm, so he would struggle with the flexible cables we use in our galaxy. – Taladris Sep 26 at 16:57
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real-life data connector

RCA connectors are simple spikes:

RCA connectors

And coaxial cables have spike connectors too:

coaxial cable connector

As well as cable TV, the first commercial versions of Ethernet, 10BASE5 and 10BASE2, used coaxial cables. Additional connections could be made by piercing the cable at any point with a vampire tap. This system was phased out in the late 80s.

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    Probably also worth pointing out that these two examples would have been the two most common interface cables in public use in the USA when both of the movies in the question came out, as they were the connectors used for home stereos and TV antennas. – T.E.D. Sep 26 at 13:22
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    Those are not spikes, they are rounded or blunt. – jamesqf Sep 26 at 16:10
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    @jamesqf a knife is blunt when you look at the edge closely enough. – Baldrickk Sep 26 at 16:56
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    Those examples have spikes, but they aren't just spikes. They also have a large cylindrical shield around them. – jamesdlin Sep 26 at 18:04
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Three suggestions.

Firstly, have you ever stepped on a BS1363 mains plug prongs up with bare feet? You won't have forgotten that in a hurry. There aren't enough F-words to cover it. Your dreams may mutate it into something even more fearsome.

Secondly, the headphone jack we are familiar with is a minaturized version of the quarter-inch jack. That was not so small. ISTR there were even bigger versions with multiple rings used in early telephone switchboards.

Finally, I think it was William Gibson in his early Cyberpunk phase who invented the "data spike". I can't remember if he ever described it in detail, so probably not. I always imagined it as having similar proportions to a quarter inch jack at the time.

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    The question is looking for the first occurrence of this and they can't all be first so which is it? Also you should add in some dates to this to back it up. Lastly, your point about William Gibson is pretty good for an actual scifi reference. If you could find some evidence to back it up that would be great! – TheLethalCarrot Sep 26 at 11:26
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    The first two are speculative. William Gibson was the first place I read the term, and "Neuromancer" was an incredible novel (in its time) that found a wide readership. It's also a very cinematic novel -- I should think most Hollywood SF scriptwriters have read it. But I can't be sure. – nigel222 Sep 26 at 11:30
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    Nigel, the querant is asking for origination, so three possibilities isn't really a valid answer - one of them had to have been before the others. @TheLethalCarrot is trying to encourage you to do the deeper research that would allow you to actually answer the question. – T.J.L. Sep 26 at 12:06
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    I'd imagine that stepping on a BS1363 is a uniquely British experience. Since the majority of these depictions come from Hollywood, it's doubtful that would be the source. (US plugs can hurt when stepped on too, but the typical design does not usually allow them to sit prongs-up.) – Darrel Hoffman Sep 26 at 13:34
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    @Darrell_Hoffman that's probably true (though Ireland and several other UK-influenced countries also use them). Was mistakenly thinking William Gibson was from the UK. – nigel222 Sep 26 at 15:09
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A long long time ago, in a galaxy not so far away, there would be a big fat coaxial cable running through the building. You would connect to it with a gadget that would drive a spike through the outer sheathing/grounding, and connect to the inner conductor.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vampire_tap

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    I didn't notice mention of Vampire Taps in the first answer, but I'll pad my own out with my observation that R2-style data spikes seem to be a digital lock-pick, and that could influence their design. – rld Sep 26 at 15:00
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To expand a little on what Taladris said in their comment, and to be a frame challenge, the main object of the data connection being a large pointed spike might be to startle the viewer. Of course, this is an "out of universe reason", but the question isn't exactly an "in universe" question anyway.

Robocop

IIRC, the first time Robocop extends his data spike, he startles the nearby cop. To me, it's obvious this was done for dramatic effect. If the cop was as tech savvy as he should have been in that situation, it shouldn't have surprised him by recognizing it for what it was. It also happens to be located where it can emulate a lewd hand gesture, which isn't at all necessary for a data port.

Robocops data spike

Later on, Robocop uses it to kill a badguy. This, again, is more of a dramatic reason for having it as a spike than any other shape. Robocop could easily have grabbed the guy's throat and ripped it out, instead of spiking him in that same scene.

Star Wars

R2D2 was a maintenance or copilot droid, so he was compact without arms or tentacles, so he needed something to physically connect to the machines he was fixing or flying.

Since it's easier to connect 2 things when the male end is pointed, it makes sense this isn't a square end. NASA uses a similar technique when docking space craft. The tapered end allows you to get "close enough" and then it seats itself. In an emergency situation, the C3PO robot wouldn't necessarily have the time or the steadiness (think loss of artificial gravity) to spend 30 seconds to get 100% lined up with a data port.

NASA command module connector

There's also the aspect that this port is rotated while in use, so something round would make easier insertion, rather than a rectangle that doesn't allow being off by even a handful of degrees, as in the dreaded USB connector which live in the 4th dimension.

R2D2 computer spike R2D2 tech specs

Vampire taps

Vampire taps are a thing, but they are generally enclosed as well as small. What they do is puncture the insulation around a cable as well as slightly embed in the wiring. This is so a technician can tap into the wire without having to cut and splice the original wire, and was considered a permanent or semi-permanent situation. Removing the tap was allowed, but precautions had to be made to prevent the wire from being further damaged after removal, such as with spills or bends.

Vampire Tap Wiki page

I can't get a good read on when vampire taps were first used, but it appears to be the 70's, so would predate both Star Wars and Robocop.

Hack-a-day

Vampire tap for 10Base-5 cable

Conclusion

I think I've made a case for the data connector to not really have any realistic precursor in reality, but it's either for dramatic effect (Robocop) or it's a practical application of technology (Star Wars). Vampire taps seem to have existed before both movies, but it's unlikely that anyone outside of geek/nerd culture would know about them at that point in history, and they aren't an obvious precursor to either movie device.

  • "really have any realistic precursor in reality". Really, really, nice. – Mad Physicist Sep 27 at 18:37
  • @MadPhysicist, nice catch! I wasn't thinking about that when I wrote it and I sure didn't plan it. lol – computercarguy Sep 27 at 19:21
  • Wasn't the RoboCop data spike also used as a weapon later in the film? Sorry, it's been awhile since I've watched the original. – Jeeped Sep 28 at 20:33
  • @Jeeped, yes. I mentioned that right after the Robocop pic. – computercarguy Sep 30 at 15:50
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There is a spike connector in use currently and almost every electronic devIce you own has been connected by it.

Pogo pin Pogo pins are spring loaded contacts that are often pointed used to make temporary connections to circuit boards when testing them. The board will be loaded into a jig (often known as a bed of nails) that precisely aligns the pogo pins over the test points on the circuit and them pushes them down to make contact. The tester can then run through various tests either inserting or reading signals at the test points.

A spike works well for both purpose as it can physically contact the circuit so you don't need a socket added at that point, the point is often driven slightly beyond the surface contact point making a good connection and the long narrow shape makes it easier to avoid any components that may be around that spot.

If you look at a circuit board you will often see round pads of exposed metal that are just in the middle of a trace seemingly doing nothing. If you look even closer you will often see dents or scratches where they've had a pogo pin attached in testing.

Multimeter probes The probes on a multimeter are also typically spikes for this reason.

Given that in most depictions of data spikes you see are unauthorized or unanticipated access then they are essentialy oversized test pins intercepting or injecting data/signals into a system.

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    Are these the first and so inspiration for the trope though? – TheLethalCarrot Sep 26 at 18:00
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    They almost certainly predate the trope, whether they are the specific inspiration is hard to say without knowing what the first reference to it was. The symbolism of physically penetrating a system is probably more the reason for the trope, but were they looking for a justification for the image test pins/probes would probably be the closest real life analog. – Dan Sep 26 at 18:18
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The old telephone switchboard jack is a strong contender for "first" in this race. According to the linked Wikipedia page, manual switchboards (which featured operators plunging ~2-inch long pointy-ended jacks into sockets over and over as they connected each call) were in widespread use by around 1880, so they predate RoboCop (1987) and Neuromancer (1984) by about a century.

The 1/4-inch (or 6.35mm) audio jack, being a single exposed cylinder with a dramatically tapered end, presents a much more 'spike'-like appearance than coaxial connectors with their center pin partially concealed in a collar, and also predates the Radio Corporation of America's introduction of the coaxial RCA connector (1930s) by several decades.

Given that this very same 1/4-inch jack is still in widespread use for musical instrument, microphone, and audio patch-cord applications, it's safe to assume that they are a familiar sight to anyone who has spent time around film sets or recording/production studios, which presumably includes the writers and directors of movies and TV shows. So in addition to the fact that this connector significantly predates the contenders mentioned in other answers, its ubiquity also lends weight to the idea that it likely inspired various fictional 'data spike' connectors.

3

During the Vietnam War, MACV/SOG Special Forces teams used a wire tap to tap North Vietnamese telephones that inserted a thin wire into the telephone line to pick up the signal. However, they betrayed the presence of the team, and so were eventually replaced by induction taps.

Source: SOG: A Photo History of the Secret Wars, page 169, by John L Plaster. SOG Wiretaps

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    This doesn't appear to predate some of the given examples. – TheLethalCarrot Sep 26 at 19:01
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    It may have seen even earlier use, this happens to be one example of such tapping that I know of. – Davidw Sep 26 at 19:08

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