Remote manipulator

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Manipulator arms inside the Hot Bay of the Engine Maintenance Assembly & Disassembly Facility, in Area 25 of the Nevada Test Site.

A remote manipulator, also known as a telefactor, telemanipulator, or waldo (after the 1942 short story "Waldo" by Robert A. Heinlein which features a man who invents and uses such devices),[1] is a device which, through electronic, hydraulic, or mechanical linkages, allows a hand-like mechanism to be controlled by a human operator. The purpose of such a device is usually to move or manipulate hazardous materials for reasons of safety, similar to the operation and play of a claw crane game.


Cayce Pentecost, Lyndon B. Johnson, Buford Ellington and Albert Gore Sr operating mechanical hands at a hot cell at Oak Ridge National Laboratory, on October 19, 1958

In 1945, the company Central Research Laboratories[2] was given the contract to develop a remote manipulator for the Argonne National Laboratory. The intent was to replace devices which manipulated highly radioactive materials from above a sealed chamber or hot cell, with a mechanism which operated through the side wall of the chamber, allowing a researcher to stand normally while working.

The result was the Master-Slave Manipulator Mk. 8, or MSM-8, which became the iconic remote manipulator[3] seen in newsreels and movies, such as The Andromeda Strain or THX 1138.

Robert A. Heinlein claimed a much earlier origin for remote manipulators.[4] He wrote that he got the idea for "waldos" after reading a 1918 article in Popular Mechanics about "a poor fellow afflicted with myasthenia gravis ... [who] devised complicated lever arrangements to enable him to use what little strength he had." An article in Science Robotics on robots, science fiction, and nuclear accidents[5] discusses how the science fiction waldos are now a major type of real-world robots used in the nuclear industry.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Technovelgy telemanipulator page
  2. ^ CRL history
  3. ^ Telemanipulator page
  4. ^ Heinlein, Robert A. (1957), "Science fiction: its nature, faults and virtues", in Davenport, Basil (ed.), The Science Fiction Novel, Chicago: Advent (published 1959)
  5. ^ Robin, Murphy (2021). "Robots, science fiction, and nuclear accidents". Science Robotics. AAAS. 6 (55). doi:10.1126/scirobotics.abj4344. PMID 34162746. S2CID 235626467. Retrieved 4 April 2023.

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