When a person has the experience of being in a location which they are not actually in through the use of technology, it is called telepresence. The idea behind behind telepresence is that the person experiencing it should be feel fully submerged in the distant location, being able to act on the environment to make changes, and feeling as though he or she is actually there. This is different from virtual reality, although much of the same technology may be used, because telepresence involves interaction with a real world location, not a fictional space.
As a concept, telepresence started to take flight in the early 1990s, when several companies started to develop technology which would help people feel more connected with a distant environment. Originally, many companies conceived of telepresence as a way for families to communicate, but the uses in the business world were quickly realized. Companies which use telepresence can communicate rapidly, reaching important decisions quickly and making a jump on emerging market trends.
There are numerous applications for telepresence, ranging from corporate conferencing to remote surgery. It is actively used for both of these things, and can also be seen in the education field, using telepresence to connect educators, students, and professionals across varying distances. Some companies also use telepresence in dangerous spaces, such as under the sea or deep within the Earth, to allow employees to visit the site without putting themselves at risk. As the technology is refined, developers claim, people could use telepresence to visit archaeological sites without damaging them, or to take trips to distant regions.
The most basic example of telepresence is a telephone, which connects two users across a sometimes formidable distance. Although neither user has the sense of being physically with the other user, the telephone helps to break down the barrier between them. More complex telepresence systems integrate sight into the equation, as is the case with most conferencing systems. In these instances, people are generally interacting with a large screen. In even more advanced examples, people are able to take actions which impact the environment in the other location, as is the case with remote surgery.
Sophisticated telepresence systems stimulate all of the senses of the user, integrating smell and taste into the experience. The technologies used for this type of telepresence involve a great deal of research and development, reflecting major advances in the sciences. These systems usually involve a visor and other such gear which will truly immerse the user in the distant environment.