Telepresence refers to a set of technologies which allow a person to feel as if they were present, to give the appearance that they were present, or to have an effect, at a location other than their true location.

Telepresence requires that the senses of the user, or users, are provided with such stimuli as to give the feeling of being in that other location. Additionally, the user(s) may be given the ability to affect the remote location. In this case, the user's position, movements, actions, voice, etc. may be sensed, transmitted and duplicated in the remote location to bring about this effect. Therefore information may be travelling in both directions between the user and the remote location.

Telepresence: a matter of degree

Telepresence is a matter of degree. Rarely will a telepresence system provide such comprehensive and convincing stimuli that the user perceives no differences from actual presence. But the user may set aside such differences, depending on the application. Watching television, for example, although it stimulates our primary senses of vision and hearing, rarely gives the impression that the watcher is no longer at home. However, television sometimes engages the senses sufficiently to trigger emotional responses from viewers somewhat like those experienced by people who directly witness or experience events. Televised depictions of sports events, or disasters such as the September 11 terrorist attacks and Abu Ghraib prisoners torture, can elicit strong emotions from viewers.

As the screen size increases, so does the sense of immersion, as well as the range of subjective mental experiences available to viewers. Some viewers have reported a sensation of genuine vertigo or motion sickness while watching IMAX movies of flying or outdoor sequences.

Even the fairly simple telephone achieves a limited form of telepresence, in that users consider themselves to be talking to each other on the telephone rather than talking to the telephone itself. To an observer with no knowledge of telephones, watching a person chatting to an inanimate object might seem curious, but the telephone is readily usable by almost everyone who can speak and listen.

Most often, currently feasible telepresence gear leaves something to be desired; the user must suspend disbelief to some degree, and choose to act in a natural way, appropriate to the remote location, perhaps using some skill to operate the equipment. In contrast, a telephone user does not see herself as "operating" the telephone, but merely talking to another person with it. A goal of telepresence developers might be to similarly have their users lose direct awareness of the equipment they are using.

Comparison with virtual reality

Telepresence refers to a user interacting with another live, real place, and is distinct from virtual presence, where the user is given the impression of being in a simulated environment. Telepresence and virtual presence rely on similar user-interface equipment, and they share the common feature that the relevant portions of the user's experience at some point in the process will be transmitted in an abstract (usually digital) representation. The main functional difference is the entity on the other end: a real environment in the case of telepresence, vs. a computer in the case of immersive virtual reality.


For a user to be given a convincing telepresence experience, sophisticated technologies are required.


A minimum system usually includes visual feedback. Ideally, the entire field of view of the user is filled with a view of the remote location, and the viewpoint corresponds to the movement and orientation of the user's head. In this way, it differs from television or cinema, where the viewpoint is out of the control of the viewer.

In order to achieve this, the user may be provided with either a very large (or wraparound) screen, or small displays mounted directly in front of the eyes. The latter provides a particularly convincing 3D sensation. The movements of the user's head must be sensed, and the camera must mimic those movements accurately and in real time. This is important to prevent unintended motion sickness.


Sound is generally the easiest sensation to implement with high fidelity, with the telephone dating back more than 100 years, and very high-fidelity sound equipment readily available as consumer gear. Stereophonic sound is more convincing than monoaural sound, and surround sound is better still.


The ability to manipulate a remote object or environment is an important aspect of real telepresence systems, and can be implemented in large number of ways depending on the needs of the user. Typically, the movements of the user's hands (position in space, and posture of the fingers) are sensed by wired gloves, inertial sensors, or absolute spatial position sensors. A robot in the remote location then copies those movements as closely as possible. This ability is also known as Teleoperation.

The more closely the robot re-creates the form factor of the human hand, the greater the sense of telepresence. Complexity of robotic effectors varies greatly, from simple one axis grippers, to fully anthropomorphic robot hands.

Haptic teleoperation refers to a system that provides some sort of tactile force feedback to the user, so the user feels some approximation of the weight, firmness, size, and/or texture of the remote objects manipulated by the robot.



Rather than traveling great distances, in order to have a face-face meeting, it is now possible to teleconference instead, using a multiway video phone. Each member of the meeting, or each party, can see every other member on a screen or screens, and can talk to them as if they were in the same room. This brings enormous time and cost benefits, as well as a reduced impact on the environment by lessening the need for travel - a damaging source of carbon emissions.

A good telepresence strategy puts the human factors first, focusing on visual collaboration solutions that closely replicate the brain's innate preferences for interpersonal communications, separating from the unnatural "talking heads" experience of traditional videoconferencing. These cues include life–size participants, fluid motion, accurate flesh tones and the appearance of true eye contact. This is already a well-established technology, used by many businesses today. The chief executive officer of Cisco Systems, John Chambers in June 2006 at the Networkers Conference compared telepresence to teleporting from Star Trek, and said that he saw the technology as a potential billion dollar market for Cisco.

Michael Venditte,Vice President of Engineering of Telanetix defines Telepresence as a human experience of being fully present at a live real world location remote from one's own physical location. Someone experiencing video Telepresence would therefore be able to behave, and receive stimuli, as though part of a meeting at the remote site. The fore mentioned would result in interactive participation of group activities that will bring benefits to a wide range of users. Application examples could be sited within emergency management and security services, B&I, entertainment and education industries.

Mike Ayers, business development director at Easynet, a BSkyB Company highlights the benefits of Telepresence: "There were four drivers for our decision to do more business over video and telepresence," said Mike Ayers, business development director at Easynet, a BSkyB Company. "We wanted to reduce our travel spend, reduce our carbon footprint and environmental impact, improve our employees' work/life balance, and improve employee productivity." . Easynet offer a fully managed solution to take the complexity out of setting up the service - a factor which often puts off less technology savvy companies. Embedded in the solution is the support given by a 24/7 concierge service at Easynet’s new Video Network Operations Centre (VNOC).

Connecting communities

Telepresence can be used to establish a sense of shared presence or shared space among geographically separated members of a group.

Subsea work

The cost of deep water diving operations is extremely high due to safety regulations, hyperbaric equipment, time spent in decompression, and support vessel costs. Telepresence systems for inspection and teleoperation for repair and maintenance would realise significant cost benefits and also remove divers from hazardous environments.

Hazardous environments

Many other applications in situations where humans are exposed to hazardous situations are readily recognised as suitable candidates for telepresence. Mining, bomb disposal, military operations, rescue of victims from fire, toxic atmospheres, or even hostage situations, are some examples.

Pipeline inspection

Small diameter pipes, otherwise inaccessible for examination, can now be viewed using pipeline video inspection.

Remote surgery

The possibility of being able to project the knowledge and the physical skill of a surgeon over long distances has many attractions. Thus, again there is considerable research underway in the subject. (Locally controlled robots are currently being used for joint replacement surgery as they are more precise in milling bone to receive the joints.) The armed forces have an obvious interest since the combination of telepresence, teleoperation, and telerobotics can potentially save the lives of battle casualties by allowing them prompt attention in mobile operating theatres by remote surgeons.

Recently, teleconferencing has been used in medicine (telemedicine or telematics), mainly employing audio-visual exchange, for the performance of real time remote surgical operations - as demonstrated in Regensburg, Germany in 2002 . In addition to audio-visual data, the transfer of haptic (tactile) information has also been demonstrated in telemedicine .


Designed and built by Digital Video Enterprises, inc. The benefits of enabling schoolchildren to take an active part in exploration have been shown by the JASON and the NASA Ames Research Center programs. The ability of a pupil, student, or researcher to explore an otherwise inaccessible location is a very attractive proposition; For example, locations where the passage of too many people is harming the immediate environment or the artifacts themselves, e.g. undersea exploration of coral reefs, ancient Egyptian tombs, and more recent works of art.

Research is also being conducted to investigate the use of telepresence to provide professional development to teachers. Research has shown that one of the most effective forms of teacher professional development is coaching, or cognitive apprenticeship. The application of telepresence shows promise for making this approach to teacher professional development practical.

Advertising and sales

Tour operators and property agents could use telepresence to allow potential customers to sample holiday locations and view properties remotely making commitments.


Telepresence systems could be incorporated into theme or nature parks to allow observers to travel through coral reefs or explore underground caves. In amusement parks, the elderly or infirm could experience the thrill of live roller coaster rides without risk.

In the games, users can interact using telepresence, sharing robots to interact one human with another (paired objects as remote surrogate actors). In other words, if one partner shakes the object, the remote object also shakes.

Telepresence art

In 1998, Diller and Scofidio created the "Refresh", an Internet-based art installation that juxtaposed a live web camera with recorded videos staged by professional actors. Each image was accompanied with a fictional narrative which made it difficult to distinguish which was the live web camera.

In 1993, Eduardo Kac and Ed Bennett created a telepresence installation "Ornitorrinco on the Moon", for the international telecommunication arts festival "Blurred Boundaries" (Entgrenzte Grenzen II). It was coordinated by Kulturdata, in Graz, Austria, and was connected around the world.

Telepresence and AI

Marvin Minsky was one of the pioneers of intelligence-based mechanical robotics and telepresence. He designed and built some of the first mechanical hands with tactile sensors, visual scanners, and their software and computer interfaces. He also influenced many robotic projects outside of MIT, and designed and built the first LOGO "turtle."

Commercial telepresence systems

Telepresence systems aimed at corporate customers are commercialized by Digital Video Enterprises Polycom, HP, Cisco, Telanetix, Tandberg, BrightCom, LifeSize, and Teliris. Prices range from tens to hundreds of thousand dollars . These systems include multiple microphones, speakers, high-definition monitors, cameras, and often dedicated networks and custom-made studios. They strive to be as transparent to users as possible by providing life-size videos, imperceptible transmission delays, and user-friendly interfaces.


The first commercially successful telepresence company, Teleport (which was later changed to TeleSuite), was founded in 1993 by David Allen and Harold Williams. The original intent was to develop a system that could allow families to interact across great distances without the hassle or costliness of flying. The first systems (which they called TeleSuites) looked more like something out of an upper class home rather than a conference room in an office suite (which are what most systems are used for today).

Hilton Hotels had originally made a deal with them to begin installing them in their hotels throughout the United States and other countries, but usage was low. The idea lost momentum and Hilton eventually backed out. They later began to focus on business oriented telepresence systems. Shareholders eventually held enough stock to take over the company, which ultimately led to its collapse. David Allen purchased all of the assets of TeleSuite and then called the new company Destiny Conferencing.

Although they survived, the idea did not truly catch on until other mega-corporations jumped onboard such as HP, and Cisco released similar systems around the mid 2000s.

An important research project in telepresence began in 1990. Headquartered at the University of Toronto, the Ontario Telepresence Project "was a three year, $4.8 million pre-competitive research project whose mandate was to design and field trial advanced media space systems in a variety of workplaces in order to gain insights into key sociological and engineering issues. The OTP, which ended December, 1994, was part of the International Telepresence Project which linked Ontario researchers to counterparts in four European nations. The Project’s major sponsor was the Province of Ontario through two of its Centres of Excellence -- the Information Technology Research Centre (ITRC) and the Telecommunications Research Institute of Ontario (TRIO)." (quoting from the project's final report ) The Project was an interdisciplinary effort involving social sciences and engineering.

Telepresence reaching Zeitgeist in 2008. New telepresence user discussion platforms (bulletin boards) such as Telepresence Forum and Telepresence Club have appeared in the later months of 2007 and continue into 2008 behind the industry push by mega-corporations such as Cisco, HP, Polycom, Nortel and Tandberg to heighten public awareness of telepresence and its benefits. Breaking telepresence industry news and article RSS feeds have gone from non-existent just a few years ago to mainstream on Internet websites such as Telepresence Today and Telepresence Report, all adding to the Zeitgeist of telepresence for 2008 and beyond.

See also



  • "Telepresence" (Minsky 1980; Sheridan 1992a; Barfield, Zelter, Sheridan, & Slater 1995; Welch, Blackmon, Liu, Mellers, & Stark 1996),
  • "Virtual presence" (Barfield et al., 1995),
  • Oliver Grau: Virtual Art: From Illusion to Immersion, MIT-Press, Cambridge 2003.
  • Oliver Grau: Telepräsenz: Zu Genealogie und Epistemologie von Interaktion und Simulation, in: Peter Gendolla u.a. (Hg.): Formen interaktiver Medienkunst. Geschichte, Tendenzen, Utopien, Frankfurt/Main: Suhrkamp 2001, S. 39-63.
  • "Being there" (Reeves 1991; Heeter 1992; Barfield et al., 1995; Zhoa 2003),
  • "A perceptual illusion of non-mediation "(Lombard & Ditton 1997)
  • "The suspension of disbelief" (Slater & Ushoh 1994)
  • unknown title (Sheridan, 1992, 1992; Barfield & Weghorst, 1993;Slater & Usoh, 1994; Barfield, Sheridan, Zeltzer, Slater, 1995)

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