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The existing English language term needs to refer to a robot that can navigate environments and it incorporates a human who is present virtually inside the robot from a remote location. The human navigates the robot and communicates with the environment in real-time. The closest example are the so-called telepresence robots being tested for use in classrooms or offices, but they are not exactly what I am describing. I feel like there is a term for such a machine vessel that 'embodies' a human, or that there should be such a term.

The terms robot or cyborg do not describe this vessel. I can imagine in the near future a humanoid robot that is not driven by AI but by a human from a remote location using VR with ability to sense the environment (e.g. sense of touch). For example, this would benefit persons with significant mobility disabilities by allowing them to be present and interact with environments, the idea behind the current telepresence robots but in a much more integrated way between the remote human and the machine, and more interactive with the environment.

So, to recap, is there a word for such a machine vessel virtually occupied by a human?

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    In what way is the machine "occupied" by the human? If the human is sitting inside the exo-thingy then is it a mechanical Turk or a dalek or perhaps even a Tesla? Of course, some of these are already among us! Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 16:18
  • You want something that's specifically humanoid and replicates the full human body? It's a subtype of Telerobotics. Remote Manipulators/Waldos typically have arms and hands controlled remotely but not whole bodies. If the human is inside then it's often called a power loader, Mecha or powered exoskeleton, but I don't think that's what's being asked.
    – Stuart F
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 16:33
  • @HighPerformanceMark my reading is that the human is not sitting inside the vehicle, but operating it remotely. It is virtually occupied. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 16:34
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    The usual term is "mechanical Turk", based on Maelzel's fake chess-playing machine. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 18:56
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    I suggest Waldo is better than Mechanical Turk where deception is not the motive.
    – Phil Sweet
    Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 23:36

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These are not machines of the future but exist now. Remotely controlled flying machines, with a virtual pilot, are called drones. The high-end drone controllers are like a flight simulator, except that the drone exists, and the sensory data it transmits is real.

Cambridge Dictionary has

drone
an aircraft that does not have a pilot but is controlled by someone on the ground, used especially for dropping bombs or for surveillance

There are also robots that can perform surgery by remote control, so the surgeon does not need to be present. I think these are still called 'robots' but some systems have a proprietory name.

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  • So your answer is drone if it flies and robot if it doesn’t? Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 19:10
  • @TinfoilHat I don't have a word for an object that does not fly, but 'drone' currently is for a remotely controlled flying object, and these appear to be more developed than terrestial or nautical vehicles, although there are ongoing projects. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 19:12
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    "Drone" can refer to many kinds of unmanned aerial vehicles - they often have human operators, but that isn't a requirement. There are partially and fully autonomous drones. I'd say "drone" just indicates that a robot can fly; it doesn't necessarily imply that it's controlled by a human. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 19:59
  • It's called Telesurgery. Goggle "remote surgery" for multiple hits. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 20:56
  • Similarly Google "remote bomb disposal" for the remote controlled robots that the army uses for making terrorist bombs safe. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 20:58
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Such a machine may be called an avatar. The term has varying connotations depending on context, but would be generally understood to be something that virtually embodies someone in an external entity. The concept was widely popularized in part by the film Avatar, in which humans remotely pilot biological rather than mechanical entities, and see the world through their avatars' eyes. What separates an avatar from a remotely piloted robotic drone is the sense of "inhabiting" the avatar and experiencing what the avatar experiences as though you were there yourself. Avatars will often be humanoid in their design, since it is difficult to achieve a human-like experience in a non-humanoid body.

The term is used in the field of robotics - see the description of the Avatar X Prize, which seems to fit your use case to a tee.

The Avatar XPRIZE aimed to create a robotic avatar system that could transport human presence to a remote location in real time.

https://www.xprize.org/prizes/avatar

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  • Isn't avatar more commonly used to describe an online identity that is itself virtual, not real? I think your link describes enabling a human presence to a remote audience, with a face and body language, whereas with a drone there is no apparent human presence, indeed early drones were fully autonomous. Not my DV – I also wrote an answer. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 18:19
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    @WeatherVane That is true, although I think current usage reflects that virtual avatars are fairly common, while physical avatars are still rather rare. If it's not clear from context, you could call them avatar robots to highlight their physicality. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 18:44
  • Avatar could be a term for such a thing, but it would take a lot of effort to introduce this way of using it and get it accepted, given that the word is already 'taken'.
    – jsw29
    Commented Jul 28, 2023 at 21:43
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An exoskeleton is a large motorized suit that an operator can wear to augment their physical capabilities, typically providing extra powerful arms and legs.

The word originally only had meaning in the biological context of certain animals, insects, etc. having an external skeleton to support and protect the organism's body, but sci-fi (and increasingly, the real world) has co-opted to term for "whole body wearable waldos" (which were originally just remotely operated robots, or motorized arms/ hands).

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    The operator isn't wearing it. They are only virtually present. Perhaps your waldo is the term. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 18:37
  • Oh, okay. I obviously interpreted OP's "virtually occupied" differently. But there are any number of ways "robots" can be controlled "remotely". Waldos and exoskeletons are a specific type of remove control where the operator moves his hands / arms / body "in the normal way" - those movements are detected by sensors, and reproduced by the mechanical components. In principle there needn't be any difference between an actual exoskeleton (with operator inside), and a remote control" device that looks like that, but just controls a remote robot. The operator might not even know! Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 19:22
  • Well yes, but an exoskeleton is only needed to protect the operator, who isn't present. The control box can be protected internally, and the machine designed so itself can suffer some damage but still be viable, like for example losing one of several arms. That is, with redundancy, and the exoskeleton would be needed when there is only one human inside. Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 19:39
  • I don't really understand that. But I just watched Johnny English Strikes Again (2018), in which our hero thinks he's on a "waldo-like" smart mechanized platform allowing him to "virtually" walk around. Unbeknown to him, the platform isn't turned on, so he goes for a 5-minute stroll around central London, creating mayhem as he interacts with real people and things which he thinks are only virtual. That's why i said in principle the operator of an exoskeleton might not know or care whether he's physically inside the actual thing with the powerful limbs! Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 19:42
  • I guess that would be the ultimate design: the controller doesn't know if they are real or imaginary, and that's an existential problem! Commented Jul 27, 2023 at 19:45
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Telerobot is a term used for what you are trying to describe, and the area of robotics concerned with the control of robots from a distance is telerobotics. OED defines a telerobot as:

A robot or robotic device that is controlled remotely and provides the user with continuous sensory feedback, typically in the form of images and sound, during operation.

Oxford English Dictionary, s.v. “telerobot, n.”, July 2023. https://doi.org/10.1093/OED/1109873244

If the term telerobot is not unambiguous enough, you can use a descriptive term like VR-controlled robot for your specific example.

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