I flinched as I caught a glimpse of the woman at the front counter. Everything about her was familiar - her slender nose, her plump lips, even the way her eyebrows rose as she spoke. The lady looked exactly like someone I know very well - me!
Although I played a big part in her coming to life, I still get startled when I see my electronic twin. My husband Chris, 49, grew up in San Francisco and he fondly remembers seeing Victorian automatons just like her. They're machines, mostly made to look like humans, and they move on their own. 'You could drop a coin in them and they'd come to life,' he said, fascinated. It reminded me of the 1980s film Big, where Tom Hanks' character visits the Zoltar fortune-teller machine.
In 2012, Chris and I brought our sons, Balin, now 13, and Denver, now 10, to settle in the small town of Sheffield, Tas. It wasn't long before we came across a beautiful old building. With a little work, it would be the perfect place to set up our quaint cafe, Fudge 'n' Good Coffee.
As renovations got underway, Chris and I discussed decorations. 'How cool would it be to have an automaton in here?' he said. It would make us unique and the kids would love it! But where on earth would we find one?
A few months later, the cafe was open and I started chatting to a local woman about our dream. 'My son Shasa could build you one,' she said, explaining he was an engineer with a keen interest in animatronics. Unable to believe our luck, we arranged to meet the robot whiz a few days later.
'We can have her stirring a pot of fudge and customers would have to try to get their coin in the mixture,' Chris said excitedly. Shasa was intrigued. Although he hadn't made a life-sized robot before, he agreed to the challenge. 'We'll need someone to mould her on,' he said. As if on cue, they turned their gazes straight to me!
I wasn't too keen on having a clone but Chris managed to convince me. 'You're the most beautiful woman in the world,' he grinned. 'There should be more of you!' So I took one for the team, but I had no idea just what the process would entail.
First, Shasa measured the dimensions of my shoulders, arms, neck and head. Then he took pictures of me from different angles and recorded my facial expressions while I talked. 'Now we have to make a mould of your face,' he said.
Using a special putty and putting straws in my nostrils so I could breathe, my entire head was encased in the mixture for 30 minutes. It felt horribly claustrophobic. After that, I had a dental mould done and casts of my hands and arms were made. I clenched my right hand into a loose fist so my robot could clutch her wooden spoon. 'We'll need to record your voice, too,' Shasa added. No-one likes the sound of their own voice and I certainly didn't want to hear myself all day at work! Still, I'd come this far...
So we taped around 20 different sayings, then Shasa sourced the materials needed and started wiring the mechanics. Chris and I ordered the beautiful glass case the automaton would sit in from a local craftsman.
Slowly my clone, Rini Robot, was coming to life. Twelve months later, when she was finally ready to be assembled, she arrived at the store in parts. Every bit of her looked like me, except the torso, which was a mannequin with a slightly bigger bust!
'It's incredible,' I gasped. With my clone still unclothed, it felt like everyone was gawking at me naked! We gave her long plaits that matched my hair and I dressed her in my favourite Victorian shirt and a hat. Pulling an apron over her head, Rini Robot had officially joined our team.
It was surreal when Shasa finally switched her on. He'd written a special software program that would control her movement and speech, so each blink or expression was planned. 'It's like looking in the mirror,' I laughed.
My robot would react whenever someone dropped in a coin or pushed the button. But occasionally, if nobody paid her any attention, she'd spring to life on her own. On her debut appearance at the front of the store, all our customers, especially the kids, were mesmerised. 'You look just like the robot!' people exclaimed.
Now our special feature is part of the furniture. Kids come in to play with her and tourists have fun taking selfies with her. Sometimes I'm even asked to join in. It took a year but Rini Robot was definitely worth it in the end.
Although I love my clone, there are still times when I'm spooked when I see her. Now if I could just teach her to make coffees and clear away the plates.