While watching Star Trek Into Darkness, the following two scenes looked funny to me.

  • In the opening scene, Spock almost dies while trying to save a native population from death by volcano. His death is only averted by exposing the population to the sight of the Enterprise, which might or might not be a worse problem, depending on your perspective.
  • Some time later, McCoy and Dr. Marcus go open a torpedo they know little about, with a very real risk of instant death apparently hanging over their heads.

What I find funny is that these are the kind of tasks that could be easily delegated to a remotely-controlled robot. Bomb-disposal units in the present day never send a person to examine a suspicious device if they can use a robot instead. Why do the enterprise crew not make use of this option? Given how stupendously advanced their technology is, you would think they could have a few mechanical gizmos with a radio link to the bridge, so that they could perform this kind of tasks without putting lives at risk.

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    more to the point, why aren't time-travelling robots? ducks for cover Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 20:35
  • I don't agree this question is a duplicate, since this is specifically about non-autonomous robots which are being controlled remotely, while the answers to the other focus entirely on autonomous robots. Voting to reopen. BTW, if we were still allowed to add new answers, I would mention the interface probe which Geordi LaForge controlled remotely using a sort of virtual reality suit (called an interface suit) in the episode "Interface".
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Mar 15, 2016 at 5:59
  • I'm reopening this question, because it really seems to be focussing on the use of robots in the reboot films, which isn't covered by the answers in the other question. On these grounds, I've added the star-trek-reboot tag and re-opened the question. Commented May 13, 2016 at 4:39
  • I felt that my answer to this one was pretty convincing, with direct quotes from the novelisation to address your specific points. Is there anything else you'd like me to add before considering an acceptance?
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 2, 2016 at 10:08

3 Answers 3


Remotely operated vehicles are pretty common in the Trek universe. The entire episode TNG: Interface was based around Geordi using a ROV to investigate a wrecked ship in a hostile environment and we see a wide range of probes being investigate phenomena, carry messages and even ferry cargo.

As to the specific instances you've highlighted. The novelisation sheds a little more light.


The supervolcano is spewing out toxic gases as well as magnetically charged particles. Spock has to go down himself because targeting systems for the transporters are being disrupted. This presumably would also affect video uplinks and robotic control downlinks.

But while they could beam him into the volcano, it would be impossible to set him down on a safe, solid location. To do that would have required a preliminary visual fix: one they had neither the time nor the precise means to obtain. Sometimes, despite the availability of the most advanced tech, nothing worked better than a pair of experienced eyes . . . and being directly on site. - Star Wars: Into Darkness - A Novel


There seem to be a number of issues at play here; Kirk's desire to have the "steadiest hands on the ship" doing the operation, the shielding on the torpedos blocking any scans inside the casing and the risk that having an active (outgoing) signal may trigger the torpedo to explode

McCoy nodded his understanding as he glanced at the readout on the monitor she was holding. It was not providing the hoped-for clear view of the torpedo’s interior. There was too much protective shielding and intervening instrumentation for the small sensors to penetrate. He said as much and she gestured in agreement. - Star Trek: Into Darkness - A Novel

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    While these are examples of remote control robots, I don't think it establishes that they are "pretty common." It seems like robotic away teams should be the norm, not the exception.
    – Moby Disk
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 16:37
  • @MobyDisk: The issue with robots is they tend to be specialized. There's only so many things you can design a robot to do, and designing said robots - even in the TNG universe - for specific situations would take time. It would be faster and more efficient to use people instead. Well, unless you can design and build fully autonomous androids that are capable of learning and adapting to their surroundings. Then that'd meet your needs. Of course, I remember a couple of episodes that focus on the ethics of doing just that.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 16:49
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    @MobyDisk - Yes, but then there would be no show.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 16:50
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    They all merely need a MALP...
    – iMerchant
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 16:58
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    @Richard Agreed. And that is why out-of-universe answers are sometimes the real answers, despite being frowned upon here. The show is no good if human lives aren't put in danger.
    – Moby Disk
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 17:44

"Quality of Life"


we do see robots, named Exocomps performing dangerous tasks.

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    I thought of this episode too. The problem with these robots is that they end up developing sentience and decide to stop being remotely controlled. They do, however, seem to have some morals as one of the robots decides to take one for the team to save Picard and LaForge.
    – Ellesedil
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 18:13
  • These aren't remotely controlled robots, they're just robots.
    – Valorum
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 18:18
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    ...true...depending on the definition of 'control' - which in some ways is what the episode is about. Additionally, although the question is explicitly worded 'remote controlled' - the implication (to me anyway) is why aren't robots used in dangerous situations (shrug)
    – NKCampbell
    Commented Mar 14, 2016 at 18:22

While not directly applicable to the new movies - the history of the Star Trek universe is fraught with intelligent AI robots and computers that are put in the positions you illustrate only to have them rebel or otherwise malfunction to the point where people simply don't trust them.

From TOS: The Ultimate Computer to TNG: Quality of Life and several other episodes, there is a well-documented problem with remote probes or AI controlled ships, bots or otherwise going off the rails. This had a chilling effect on AI and artificial life in the Star Trek universe. Undoubtedly this history started before the events of the new movies as well. Be it in the Eugenics Wars or something from the Enterprise era.

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