Scientists have created the first 'humanoid' robot that can mimic the facial expressions and lip movements of a human being.
'Jules' - a disembodied androgynous robotic head - can automatically copy the movements, which are picked up by a video camera and mapped on to the tiny electronic motors in his skin.
It can grin and grimace, furrow its brow and 'speak' as his software translates real expressions observed through video camera 'eyes'.
Jules mimics the expressions by converting the video image into digital commands that make the robot's servos and motors produce mirrored movements.
And it all happens in real time as the robot can interpret the commands at 25 frames per second.
The project, called 'Human-Robot Interaction', was devised at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory (BRL), run by the University of the West of England and the University of Bristol.
A team of robotics engineers - Chris Melhuish, Neill Campbell and Peter Jaeckel - spent three-and-a-half years developing the breakthrough software to create interaction between humans and artificial intelligence.
Jules has 34 internal motors covered with flexible rubber ('Frubber') skin, which was commissioned from roboticist David Hanson in the US for BRL.
It was originally programmed to act out a series of movements - as can be seen in the video - where 'Jules' talks about 'destroying Wales'.
The technology works using ten stock human emotions - such as happiness, sadness, concern etc - that the team 'taught' Jules via programming.
The software then maps what it sees to Jules's face to combine expressions instantly to mimic those being shown by a human subject.
'We have a repertoire of behaviours that somehow is dynamic', Chris Melhuish said.
'If you want people to be able to interact with machines, then you've got to be able to do it naturally.
'When it moves, it has to look natural in the same way that human expressions are, to make interaction useful.'
Peter Jaeckel, who works in artificial emotion, artificial empathy and humanoids at BRL, said: 'Realistic, life-like robot appearance is crucial for sophisticated face-to-face robot-human interaction.
'Researchers predict that one day, robotic companions will work, or assist humans in space, care and education.
'Robot appearance and behaviour need to be well matched to meet expectations formed by our social experience.
'Violation of these expectations due to subtle imperfections or imbalance between appearance and behaviour results in discomfort in humans that perceive or observe the robot.
'If people were put off, it would counteract all efforts to achieve trustworthiness, reliability and emotional intelligence.
'All these are requirements for robotic companions, assisting astronauts in space or care robots employed as social companions for the elderly.
'Unlike most research projects, the focus lies on dynamic, subtle, facial expressions, rather than static exaggerated facial displays.
'Copycat robot heads have been created before, but never with realistic human-looking faces.'
But not everyone is impressed by Jules's mastery of mimicry.
Kerstin Dautenhahn, a robotics researcher at the University of Herefordshire, believes that people may be disconcerted by humanoid automatons that simply look 'too human'.
'Research has shown that if you have a robot that has many human-like features, then people might actually react negatively towards it,' she said.
'If you expose vulnerable people, like children or elderly people, to something that they might mistake for human, then you would automatically encourage a social relationship.
'They might easily be fooled to think that this robot not only looks like a human and behaves like a human, but that it can also feel like a human. And that's not true.'
It is hoped that the technology developed in Jules will help create robots for use in space, to accompany astronauts on solo missions, and in healthcare settings and nursing homes.
Watch footage of 'Jules' in action...