An Avatar (Na'vi name: unil-tìran-tokx translates "dream walk body") is a human mind transferred into a genetically engineered body of a human/Na'vi hybrid. Humans use this method because they cannot live on Pandora without breathing gear, because the atmosphere is toxic, containing lethal levels of ammonia, methane and chlorine. The RDA is trying to bridge the cultural gap with the aboriginal population, which has been difficult to communicate and negotiate with. The Na'vi refer to them as "Dream Walkers" or "Demons in a false body".
The Avatar Program scientists take DNA from a Na'vi, and from a selected human volunteer. On Earth, in company genetics labs, they create an in-vitro embryo, which is a genetic composite of the alien and human donor.
The recombinant embryo is grown in-vitro during the flight to Pandora, which takes 3 years (ship-time/ 5 years Earth time). In that time it reaches near adult size, since the locals mature fast.
When it is "born" (or more properly decanted) as a post-adolescent, it looks like a Na'vi, and can live comfortably on Pandora, but it has enough human neurophysiology to be used as an Avatar, or surrogate body. The human volunteer then becomes a Controller. Using Psionic Link technology, the human controller can remotely control the avatar body out in the wilds of Pandora. The controller receives all sensory input, and provides all motor control to the body.
Essentially, the controller lives through the avatar, and is completely unaware of his own body while linked. Each avatar is genetically keyed to its respective human controller. By communicating with the locals through these avatars, which are less alien to them, the RDA has had some success teaching them English and basic skills.
Jake Sully wakes up as an avatar.Some known differences between the Avatars and real Na'vi is that the Na'vi have four digits (three fingers and a thumb) on their hands and feet, whereas the Avatars (due to the influence of human DNA) have five. They also have eyebrows, which the Na'vi lack. The Avatars display slightly more human-like body structures than the Na'vi. This is especially noticeable when comparing the build of Jake Sully to that of the male Na'vi of the Omaticaya Clan: Jake's body structure is noticeably sturdier than that of the more willowy Na'vi. Additionally the eyes of an Avatar are usually smaller and more human like in contrast to the large, lemur-like eyes of the Na'vi. The nose of the Avatar is also different; it has a more pronounced central ridge, much like the human nose. The Na'vi nose, however, is much flatter and cat-like.
It is possible, using the unique biology of Pandora and guided by the Na'vi, for a human to transfer their conscious mind permanently to that of the Avatar body. It is first tried in an attempt to save the life of Avatar Program's lead scientist, Grace Augustine, but the transfer fails due to her injuries. It is next attempted on Jake Sully, after he has lead the Na'vi to victory against the RDA and driven them (with some exceptions) off Pandora. The movie concludes with his human body being exposed to the moon's atmosphere, and his Avatar body opening its eyes, suggesting that the transformation had succeeded.
The cost of each Avatar is roughly five hundred million dollars ($500,000,000).1
The controlled environment of the amnio tank was originally developed to replace functions of mammalian womb. It is used for growing cloned animals, humans (rarely) and (most commonly) replacement limbs and organs. It is now used with great success to grow avatar bodies that are genetically linked to their controllers. This in turn allows for an effective psilink between human controller and the cloned avatar.
The growth takes place in a suspension fluid, a mostly inert substitute for amniotic fluid kept at a controlled temperature and with constantly monitored composition. One or more placentiums, which function similarly to a mammalian placenta, supply nutrients and hormones to the organ or creature being cultivated. Monitoring equipment is used to closely control the nutrients, growth stimulants and other materials supplied via the placentium.
Cellular rebuilders, found at many large Terran hospitals serving clients with alpha-level insurance coverage, are modified amnio tanks. Clients suffering from serious injury or organ failure are put into an induced coma, connected to a placentium, then immersed in the rebuilder tank where reconstruction at a cellular level is performed under nanobotic control.
Amnio tanks range in size from the one-pint “Digigrow” found in many doctor's offices as an outpatient service, to the converted dry dock at Anchorage Naval Yards currently being used as part of the Ocean Phoenix whale revival project.
The amnio tanks used by the Avatar Project are unusually large, to accommodate the Na’vi-like creatures they are built to create. A standard human amnio tank is about 2.2 meters long and holds about 570 liters of fluid. An avatar tank is 385.82 centimeters long, 148.4 centimeters wide, and holds nearly 6,350 liters of fluid. In addition, the avatar tanks are designed to be portable, since most avatar growth takes place on the interstellar vehicle during transit to Pandora.
Thanks to the long duration of the journey (almost six years Earth time), less aggressive growth stimulants are needed to bring the avatar to full adult stature than would usually be necessary; most organisms grown in amnio tanks on Earth are completed within six months.
More “natural” growth to full size of avatars meant that research essentially duplicating the types of experiments carried out on terrestrial mammals did not have to be performed, and also reduced the complexity of the amnio tank monitoring system.
An indication of the differences between Earth organisms and those found on Pandora is given by the composition of the fluid in the amnio tank – the avatar amnio fluid is a relatively strong alkali solution rather than the simple saline that is the base of terrestrial amnio fluids. Indeed, it is so strong that most Earth organisms would be largely dissolved by a few weeks of immersion, and human technicians decanting fully matured avatars are required to wear gloves and protective eyewear during the process. Xenobiologists have discovered that avatar amnio fluid reflects the composition of Pandora’s oceans, which are also somewhat caustic.
Function: Enclosed area containing unpressurized quarters and recreational facilities for use by Avatar Project field agents.
Notes: Basketball is the most common sport within compound. To allow for both low gravity and the extra height of avatars, the hoop is set at a height of 4.87 meters or sixteen feet. Originally intended to help acclimate new avatar controllers to Pandoran conditions, the Avatar Compound provides an intermediate stage between the Earth-like environment within most of the Hell's Gate complex and the highly dangerous Pandoran jungle. The Compound includes a palisade constructed of Pandoran native timber, erected inside the Hell's Gate electrified razor wire safety fence. This is partly for visual purposes, to remind avatar operators that their duties will entail work in defensive positions in a jungle setting, and partly for safety. Avatar recreational activities sometimes include team sports and there is a real danger that avatars might come in contact with the safety fence.
A guard tower of 30.48 meters (100 feet) was link room floorplanconstructed to supplement the standard automated towers on the Hell's Gate fence line. It can be occupied by avatars or humans, and provides spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.
The most prominent building in the Compound is the longhouse. The open-plan building contains cots on which avatars can be parked for rest when not in use. Other sections of the compound include a recreation area with game equipment and a fully equipped gym; a meeting area; a kitchen and commissary, where instruction in the capture and preparation of food species in the Pandoran wild is given; sanitary facilities; scientific equipment; and an airlock and tunnel leading to the main Hell's Gate laboratories. Nearly all furniture and equipment in the longhouse structure is scaled to suit the avatars' average nine to ten-foot height. Equipment such as video screens in other parts of the compound are modified to match height and other requirements. The avatars are also provided with an oversized obstacle course, partially modeled on Sec-Ops training protocols, and an outdoor weight-training facility. Avatar physiology has been found to respond to weight training similarly to humans, and avatar operators are required to include such conditioning as part of their maintenance program. An obstacle course reproduces some of the conditions that may be encountered in the Pandoran wild and is used by both avatars and Sec-Ops forces.
Human controllers' bodies tend to degrade during their service in the Avatar Program. Due to spending most of their time controlling Avatars, their body does not do as much physical activity as they should.