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Telepresence: Key to more practical space exploration

06 Dec 2013  | John Merchant

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Telepresence, although vastly more sophisticated is a logical follow on of the telephone that would transform the 21st century by enabling a human at one location to do any kind of physical work at a distant location without going there, almost as effectively as if actually there.

Telepresence would be implemented by a humanoid robot at the distant location that was remotely controlled by the human. (This humanoid could be human-size, or smaller or larger than a human depending upon the mission requirements). The humanoid would enable the human, to see, feel, and work at that distant location using his own arms, hands, fingers, etc. and dexterous skill. These manual actions of the human would define the work that was to be done, but it is the humanoid at the distant location that would actually perform that work.

Correspondingly, the neuromuscular actions of the larynx of a telephone-caller define the speech that he wishes to communicate to another person at a distant location, but it is the telephone hardware at the other end of the line that actually delivers that speech to the other person.


Telepresence is a sophisticated technology that would enable a human at a home location to work at one distant location without being there by means of a humanoid that was actually at that distant location. Telemotion is a term used here to refer to a very much simpler technology that, in combination with telepresence would enable the human at the home location to cause the humanoid to move, by walking and/or climbing, from one distant location to another. For example telemotion might be implemented by providing the humanoid with six legs that were remotely controlled via suitable software by the human.

Telepresence, with telemotion would enable a human at a single home location to virtually move around and work at different distant locations, just as a human working without telepresence can actually move around and work at different locations.

Telepresence on Earth

Telepresence is not only applicable in space. It could also enable humans to work at terrestrial locations without being there, in those cases when it would be difficult, dangerous or impossible for humans to actually be present at those locations. For example:

  • Telepresence could enable humans to work at the site of a major nuclear accident to quickly contain it, while their human bodies were safely located many miles away from the intense lethal nuclear radiation being released by the accident. In the aftermath of the prolonged 2011 out-of-control nuclear accident at Fukishima this capability could restore the acceptability of nuclear power. That acceptability is very important. Nuclear power may ultimately have to supply much of the world's need for energy because of climate change.
  • In 2010 the nation watched in disbelief as 50,000 barrels of oil gushed each day for several months into the Gulf from the broken Deepwater Horizon blowout preventer. An out-of-control environmental disaster was unfolding right before our very eyes but nobody, from the President on down could do anything about it because the blowout preventer was one mile beneath the ocean surface, where humans simply cannot be. Had telepresence been developed, humans might have prevented this disaster by properly maintaining the blowout preventer, and if necessary quickly repairing it while their human bodies were safely located many miles away on dry land.
  • Super telepresence is exactly the same as regular telepresence except that its humanoid robot would be substantially bigger and stronger than any human. Super telepresence could therefore provide, at any location a super-human work capability that currently does not exist. For example, super telepresence could enable human workers to maintain and repair very large offshore or onshore drilling rigs. Super telepresence might also find important application in manufacturing and construction.

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