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"There was a time when one old eccentric guy with a notebook could do something important to science. Now even the resources of a major university are often not enough."
- Jerry Pournelle

Mechanical Men  
  Remote controlled robots used to perform dangerous work.  

Very early description of this idea; the user viewed the work through the "electric eyes" of the robot.

One day I was running a test on the polonium that flowed into the repulsion tubes to determine its quality. Ron, a classmate, approached me. “William will you take my place for a while at the ‘auto’ controls. I have to see Professor Luch personally for a few moments.”

“All right, Ron.”

“Thanks, a lot.” I went to the control room where the three other men were manipulating their mechanical men, doing various duties that could not be done very efficiently by automatic levers and relays. I sat before the mirror that represented the electric eye of the robot, and by various levers moved “No. 7” to take a look at the temperature of the electric furnace for repulsion tube No. 3. Everything was functioning perfectly. I continued to do routine work relative to the operation of the repulsion tube...

As my robot straightened up from depositing some huge balance weights on the floor, I saw with horror that a polonium tube leading to the great discharger had snapped, pouring the precious Martian metal on the floor. Immediately, the dial on the wall above me showed that the great disk had already taken on a list, and was beginning to descend slightly. “Increase your voltage and polonium flow, men, I’m shutting my discharger off. Polonium tube snapped !”

Knowing full well that the other repulsors could not stand the added strain indefinitely, I set No. 7 to work swiftly to close off the voltage and metal flow, and replace the broken tube. Conversation ceased; the others turning grim faces to their work, and working rapidly and surely. The list was corrected but still the disk continued to descend. With my heart pounding in my ears, it seemed an eternity to cut out the tube. Yet, it was delicate work and had to be done with extreme care. Even in this crucial moment I marveled at the delicacy with which the automaton handled the tube under my control. I watched metal hands carefully place the tube in its section. As soon as it was safe, the polonium began to flow again, and the discharger was turned on. Slowly, the instruments indicated that the descent of the disk was checked, and that it began to assume a normal elevation again after having fallen a thousand feet.

From The Ancient Brain, by A.G. Stangland.
Published by Science Wonder Stories in 1929
Additional resources -

Compare to the waldo from Waldo (1940) by Robert Heinlein. It is of particular interest to note that Heinlein's idea was the impetus for the development of similar devices used in the nuclear power industry - they were even called "waldoes".

See also the teleoperated lab robots from Cities in Flight by James Blish.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from The Ancient Brain
  More Ideas and Technology by A.G. Stangland
  Tech news articles related to The Ancient Brain
  Tech news articles related to works by A.G. Stangland

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