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SociBot mirrors faces for uncanny teleconferences

This disembodied robot can identify you in a crowd, mimic human emotions, and follow you around the room with its eyes. Plus, it's programmable to display any face, even your own.

SociBot v1.2 changes its expression to reflect its mood, so for Skynet's sake, don't upset it! Engineered Arts

Whoever said you can't be in two places at once never meet SociBot. From the same company that created RoboThespian -- Engineered Arts -- SociBot v1.2 allows people to program their faces, or anyone else's, onto the robot with real-time facial animations.

According to the UK-based company's Web site, "SociBot uses projective head technology, which we have now combined with a sophisticated mesh mapping algorithm, meaning your robot can have any face you desire -- even your own. Expressions and features are easy to modify and control. With voice recognition, facial tracking, lip-syncing, and speech synthesis in more than twenty languages, anyone can converse freely with our chattiest robot."

The SociBot contains a HD RGB camera, molded plastic head with controllable face and internally projected features, fully articulated neck, IR depth sensor, high-quality audio, fiberglass torso, and a touch-screen interface.

What makes this robot even more interesting than its impressive specs, according to the Web site: "SociBot and SociBot-Mini can track the position of more than 12 people at a time, even in a crowd. They can also detect gestures like hand waves and body poses. The internal head projector can map any face onto any mould."

While SociBot has applications at airports, malls, science museums, and theme parks, Engineered Arts hopes potential clients will see its possibilities as the ultimate telepresence device thanks to its ability to recognize people and their moods, as well as convey subtle human-like expressions using any face the client wants to program it to display -- including their own.

Clients can project any face onto SociBot, including their own, which could make for some unusual meetings. Engineered Arts

SociBot is available in both a full-sized version priced at approximately $24,000, and a SociBot-Mini desktop version at $15,700. Either model can be fully customized.

Originally, the SociBot was unveiled at the CeBit IT fair in 2012. This latest model, the SociBot-Mini, impressed attendees at last month's Human-Robot Interaction Conference in Bielefield, Germany.

"It's as spooky as all hell," SociBot creator Will Jackson told New Scientist late last month."We've tried it with a couple of our telecommuting colleagues in meetings and when it suddenly turns and joins in the conversation as our colleague Dan, and with his face, it is quite amazing. But you get used to it quickly."

And even if you don't get used to SociBot in your next meeting, perhaps faking acceptance is in your best interest. After all, it can sense when you're not happy.