Projection people aren't an entirely new phenomenon, but this Mask-bot — a new yammering robo-visage from German and Japanese researchers — was built to give robots emotive faces and to replace conference calls with talking heads.

Is this more or less unnerving than telepresence machines like Telenoid R1? We'll let you be the judge. Explains Technische Universität München of Mask-bot's uses:

By using a projector to beam the 3D image of a face onto the back of a plastic mask, and a computer to control voice and facial expressions, the researchers have succeeded in creating Mask-bot, a startlingly human-like plastic head. Yet even before this technology is used to give robots of the future a human face, it may well soon be used to create avatars for participants in video conferences [...]

To replicate facial expressions, [researcher] Takaaki Kuratate developed a talking head animation engine – a system in which a computer filters an extensive series of face motion data from people collected by a motion capture system and selects the facial expressions that best match a specific sound, called a phoneme, when it is being spoken. The computer extracts a set of facial coordinates from each of these expressions, which it can then assign to any new face, thus bringing it to life. Emotion synthesis software delivers the visible emotional nuances that indicate, for example, when someone is happy, sad or angry.

Curiously enough, Kuratate cites the singing busts at Walt Disney's Haunted Mansion as the spiritual predecessor of this project. And I'll gladly support any initiative that turns staff meetings into episodes of Max Headroom.