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Royal Visit to MediaCityUK and BBC R&D

On Friday 23rd March 2012, Matthew Postgate, Controller BBC R&D, myself and members of the User Experience & Accessibility team were given the honour of presenting a short demonstration of our work to Her Majesty The Queen and His Royal Highness The Duke of Edinburgh.

This was part of the Royal visit to MediaCityUK, Salford to formally open the BBC North Buildings, the Studio facilities and start the Sport Relief Mile. In glorious sunshine and large crowd, Her Majesty's visit was a great success for all involved from the BBC & its partners in Salford including Peel Media. The visit was captured by our colleagues in News.

 

The Queen arrives at MediaCityUK in her car

The Queen arrives at MediaCityUK in her car

 

On their tour of the BBC facilities, Her Majesty & His Royal Highness spent a short time at the R&D exhibition space where Matthew & I were able to give them a brief history of R&D, the role we play in the BBC as well as our relevance to UK media industry and our continuing work with academic partners.

Dr Michael Evans, Lead Engineer on the team, then explained about our work to improve Accessibility in "connected homes" where internet technology allows televisions to work with our personal, accessible devices. In the 'connected home', it is feasible to envisage the subtitles (or signing for those who are hard of hearing) available on your tablet computer, hear the audio description (or a foreign language) on your smartphone, or even read it on your braille device. All of these devices are synchronised and working together (using our work on an Universal Control specification) maintaining a shared experience, even for families / groups with a wide range of accessibility requirements.

Having created this technology for disabled users, we were able to show how it can be used to deliver additional content, such as the BBC Online companion, about the programme which could benefit everyone at home.

Finally, Liz Valentine, one of our Junior Research Scientists, explained to the Royal visitors about her current research field work on "Accessible Single Switch Remote Control" with a SCOPE supported facility at Beaumont College for Further Education, Lancaster. Beaumont is a facility which supports learners aged between 18 and 25 with a broad range of physical and learning disabilities and aims to empower them to take responsibility for their own lives. Working with these inspiring teenagers, who aren't able to use TV remote controls or other conventional interfaces, the team has been developing ways in which the students can use head trackers and single switches, usually built into their wheelchairs, to take control of their media devices and access the BBC's channels & content independently. The short film below will give you sense of the work we presented.

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Both The Queen & The Duke of Edinburgh had plenty of questions and showed an interest in the work as did other senior visitors on the day.

Accessibility is just one part of how R&D is serving the BBC's audience but is one that is possibly not very well known. I'd like to thank the effort put in by those R&D staff involved in the work shown and the demonstrations themselves: Mike, Liz, Matt Brooks, Alex Rawcliffe, Steve Jolly, Brendan Crowther, Kevin Claydon, Sharon Martin and Alice Whittle.

We'd like to especially thank the students & staff of Beaumont College for their continued engagement with our research work and allowing us to film them. Also thanks to Chris Sizemore & Andy Littledale from BBC Online Knowledge & Learning Product and the team at Natural History Unit for support with the Frozen Planet material and 'Dual Screen Companion'.

Finally our thanks for continued support of Peter Salmon & the BBC North Board who created this fantastic opportunity for R&D and Future Media to showcase our work. The Royal visit was a great success and represents a really positive milestone for the whole of the MediaCityUK project.

We are very proud to have been part of a special day for the BBC.

Dr Adrian Woolard, Project Director, North Lab.

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