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teleoperations (telerobotics)

Teleoperations, also called telerobotics, is the technical term for the remote control of a robot. In a telerobotic system, a human operator controls the movements of the robot from some distance away. Signals are sent to the robot to control it; other signals come back, telling the operator that the robot has followed the instructions. These control and return signals are called telemetry.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, interest in teleoperations has grown significantly, primarily due to rising demand for contactless delivery. In this delivery model, purchases are delivered the last mile without the need for the customer to come face-to-face with a human delivery driver. 

Teleoperations and last mile delivery

Most teleoperated robots are task-oriented and have a limited range of functions. At a recent conference in Barcelona, for instance, Ericsson demoed a new teleoperation system that allowed a driver to remotely control an autonomous, electric truck more than 2,000 kilometers away in Sweden. In California, last mile delivery robots were used to move medical supplies around two stadiums converted into COVID-19 treatment centers. The end user simply had to open an app on their smartphone or tablet and drop a destination pin for the robot. The robot, which could cross streets and climb curbs, was monitored remotely and could be operated remotely should the need arise. Once the robot arrived at its destination, the delivery recipient received an alert and could unlock the robot through the app. 

Starship and AutoX build autonomous vehicles that can delivery food directly to someone's door.

Remote control with telepresence sensors

In a more sophisticated form of teleoperation known as telepresence, the human operator can see what the robot "sees," which give the operator a sense of being on location and an augmented reality (AR) user experience. For example, a robot used to provide a virtual tour of a factory could be equipped with sensors that detect sensations of vision and sound, and in some cases pressure and texture. These sensations could then be reproduced at the operator's location by means of specialized transducers.

This was last updated in June 2020

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