Archives for February 2010

Weeknotes #3 (26/02/10)

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George Wright George Wright | 16:31 UK time, Friday, 26 February 2010


Glen was up in BBC North seeing R&D colleagues up there, showing our work and seeing some of theirs. Tris ran a retrospective on the Signatures project this morning - we don't usually do these but we should. This project went really well so this felt like a good one to start with, not too many recriminations hopefully!

A hefty 67-page draft report arrives from the indie working on Resolver - Chris G and Tristan sit down to read it. They finish the day on a phone conference with the indie and Matthew P to discuss some of the policy and strategy elements. Akua was doing a lot of research into Olympics services to inform our ongoing work, whilst Theo and Chris N are working on some hardware after Theo went on an Arduino workshop last week

We had another team-wide chat about space, not much progress. We have a new room available and need to figure out the best way of using it. Every possible option seems to have too many cons.

Tris etc made some headway architecting Coventry and deciding on what bits we can prioritise. Looks like there's a short-term prototype and some longer-term research that could come out of it. After lunch we take a look at our project planning board, it's looking a little empty one month ahead but that's ok cos we have a planning and strategy session next.

Duncan's started to fill up his microblogging database and is seeing some interesting patterns.  Sean discovered that his plan to relay the microblogging stream over the proxy would not be able to handle the volume of data. Duncan read about and installed RabittMQ on a local VM along with Ruby AMQP client implementation, and hooked up with a streaming library, to pop incoming updates onto a Queue. He also added script to strip incoming updates and final script to import into the DB. Glen's microblogging ingest API is done and now running as a service at Watford. I'm a bit worried that we have an Enterprise version and a lightweight version of this work, and they're not quite meeting in the middle.


Sean was happy, as he got his first ejabberd module building (for our work around a prescence system.)  Sam had some great progress with P2P-Next: feed search, distributed search and LIMO/NextShare integration. Tris and I met with Jigna, who's working on green tech for BBC R&D. We think there are a number of things we could prototype in this area. Adding them to our list.

We have the final review of the Resolver deliverables, we've sent the indie off with a bit of document restructuring to do. Tris shows Mythology to some colleagues who are working on similar concepts for music and radio. They're doing it for production but they're broadly similar in concept and our work could help them push for some more advanced features. I meet a colleague from Children's R&D to discuss what we might work on with them, then rush over to W12 to prepare for a demo on Thursday. The shuttle bus is late so I sit on the Westway for far too long. Boo.


Vicky and I went to W12 to present recent work to BBC FM&T's COO and her team. We got a really positive reaction. Some of her team will make a return visit to our office to see more work and to follow up Multitouch. Annoyingly, our (custom made by BBC R&D) multitouch table got mangled in transit, so we are having to get that fixed. Hmmm. Duncan and Glen were hard at work on the microblogging service - we've now deployed both app and ingest scripts to our Watford boxes. We are presenting this work on Friday - so Duncan wrote SQL to generate stats for the presentation.

We all go (back in my case) to W12 at the end of the day, for the launch of BBC R&D's new South Lab. Lots of people in the new space. Gilbert and George (the R&D mascots) are safely outside. We all admire the library and the building, have a drink or two, chat to colleagues and join in the celebration for what's clearly been a difficult task.


Presented the microblogging work to Jem from A&M. He liked it and had some suggestions about what to do with it next. We're pleased that this went well. Glen and I have a catchup to discuss how things are going at the moment. Vicky, Duncan and Theo lock themselves in a room to go through next week's work on the microblogging work. No meetings apart from that so we're all just slogging through our backlog and ignoring emails.

BBC Scotland Prototype Programme- Round one Round up

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Brendan Crowther Brendan Crowther | 12:42 UK time, Thursday, 25 February 2010

On Friday 18th February the first of two development sessions run by the Prototype project rounded off in style with a series of presentations at Pacific Quay in Glasgow. For the previous two weeks students from Abertay University had been working alongside BBC producers, programmers and designers building prototypes (the clue's in the name) of possible future BBC services. On Friday they presented their ideas back to an audience of BBC and Abertay staff including representatives from Entertainment, R&D, TV Platforms and Strategy.

The presentations were very well received despite a couple of technical hitches (never work with animals, children or live technical demos) and covered a diverse range of platforms including red button, public big screens, IPTV and archive. The individual projects explored ideas around collaborative and competitive play for both children and adults; the potential of motion and sound control when used with large crowds; how to move web content away from the PC screen using Augmented Reality and new architecture and visualisation methods for vast stores of complex data. We've already had interest in each of the prototypes from BBC divisions including Entertainment, Children's, TV Platforms and R&D.

Prototype is about first iteration products that prove concepts rather than presenting finished pieces of work. That the students were able to generate such a favourable response from BBC staff used to seeing very high quality output is testament to the quality of work on show. This in turn would not have been possible without the tremendous amount of work they put in.

The Students take BBC and Abertay staff through their projects

Simon Lumb of TV Platforms in Manchester is currently looking at re-using the development processes used on Prototype. He's aiming to run sessions drawing on students from HEIs in the North of England. Additionally, we want to explore how we turn the rapid prototyping methods we've been using into internal BBC processes that can help production teams generate and iterate content ideas. We'll keep you informed on how this all pans out.


Our focus for the next few weeks will be documenting the work that was done and getting sorted for the next session which starts on 15th March. We'll also be looking on how the current projects move forwards from here to a stage where they can be pitched internally for further investment.

Prototype is run by BBC Scotland New Media and sponsored by Vision so we'll be working alongside each other to make sure the ideas the students helped shape are deployed across brands and platforms that suit them best. Each of the projects was designed as a potentially re-skinnable piece of technology so the resulting products are designed to live in multiple spaces within the BBC's output. This was a consideration from the off - anything built under the Prototype banner should represent excellent value for money for the BBC.

The level of effort the students put into the project cannot be overstated. They were frequently in the office until the wee hours and it shows in the solidity of the work they produced. Each and every one of them hugely impressed the BBC staff members they came into contact with. We're committed to keeping them involved in the further development of the prototypes they devoted so much of their time to and we're currently working with Abertay to formalise this arrangement.

New R&D Website

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 10:00 UK time, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

A couple of weeks ago we very quietly and carefully ushered into the world our new, redesigned, and extended, R&D website.  It was a soft launch, carefully introducing a site with most of the content fully checked and complete, but with one or two little teething issues still very much in play. 


Over recent weeks we have feverishly worked to clear up as many of the problems that we can. so today, with still somewhat muted fanfare, we introduce our new site.

Over the next few weeks we'll be posting specific guides to the various areas of the new site, but for now we'll give you a general overview of the way we put it togther, and also give a tip of the hat to everyone who has contributed to the project.

The top level navigation breaks the site into the following sections:
About Us: Who we are, how we are organised, our history, and opportunities to work here.
Projects: Most of our active, and some hostorical projects, organised by Research Section.
Publications:  Our online library of public access documentation.
Collaborate:  How we collaborate with others in industry and academia
News & Media:  All our videos, plus contact information for the press
Contact Us:  General contact info, plus directions to our various location

It is still early days, but the intention is to keep the site growing and adapting to help you understand us better.  When we make changes we'll flag them here on the blog.

One other big advantage for the new website is the video architecture we sit on has global distribution built in from the get go.  Over the next few weeks we'll be porting films from the blog to the website so all our readers across the world will be able to enjoy the films we're making.

Hacking the Next Gen Remote

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 23:00 UK time, Monday, 22 February 2010

Over the past couple of weeks I've been popping up to Manchester, home of BBC R&D's North Lab, to join in an excercise in hackery that could, potentially, put some very interesting things in people living rooms a few years hence.  And I'm not talking about cheese and pineapple hedgehogs either (though I do like them.  A lot).

No, instead, the Audience Experience section has deployed the very excellent Maxine Glancy on a project to get engineers, scientists, developers and me to try and invent next generation 'remote technologies', for the next generation of services.  And to help us in this effort, she has drafted in the rather brilliant people from  These wonderful people run workshops, courses and the like introducing people to the wonders of the Arduino the nice little open source physical computing device.arduino_kit2sml.JPG

Last week we were issued with developer kits from Oomlaut consisting of arduinos and a selection of components, and run through an intensive concept innnovation process. The kit's were surprisingly easy to get to grips with- I haven't done much in the way of coding since I properly stuffed up a completely impossible to compile (but utterly innovative) simulated robot environment about 15years ago, and in terms of electronics I can usefully cook my own car with a soldering iron, but with this kit I was creating computer driven lights within about 15 minutes.  I'd like you to studiously ignore the OS that laptop is clearly running and focus rather upon the very nice IDE that is sitting on the screen.  It really is very very lovely, and a joy to work with.

With these kits we were going to plan out and eventually fabricate a whole set of innovative ways that we could imagine 'remotes' of the future developing.

In order to come up with the innovative ideas for our remotes, the workshop (and I am comfortable calling it a workshop, because in spite of an absence of lathes, we really were making things) included a classic session of sticking up lot's of post-it notes. The amount of ideas thrown up was, as ever with this crowd, quite staggering.  It helped that not only did we have our own in house experts on new television interfaces, game interface design, and accessibility design, but we also pulled in developers from the TV Platforms area, and of course the brilliantly creative team.  Just look at that forest of post-its!

Dr Evans and a forest of ideas

This week, we reconvene to produce the physical prototypes or proof of concepts for our ideas.  This is going to be a lot of fun, and we'll blog the results as soon as we can.  We will I'm sure have more excellent photos of the team hard at work.  Inventing astonishing devices, and breaking them just as quickly.

(I should really point out that great as and Arduino are, they are neither of them by any means the only people doing what they do. There are lots of other cool people doing these sorts of things, and we hope to work with a lot of them) 

Surround Video! Yes! SURROUND VIDEO!

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 12:00 UK time, Sunday, 21 February 2010

In today's short film, shot at Kingswood Warren last year, Quentin Cooper is introduced to the astonishing technology of surround video.  Graham Thomas explains how in a short 'rapid prototyping' development period a small team of R&D engineers and scientists built this working demonstration of a potentially revolutionary new form of video recording and viewing.

With a mix of high tech broadcast equipment and some decidedly more 'down to earth' materials, the team have built a demonstrator that could make a profound impact on the future of what we watch.  Possibly.  We hope.

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We'll be taking a demo of this technology to Maker Faire in Newcastle in a month or so- do swing by if you're around.

Weeknotes #2 (19/02/10)

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Chris Godbert | 16:05 UK time, Friday, 19 February 2010


Very quiet in the office today so it didn't seem worth having a stand-up. George, Vicky and Tris are out visiting Microsoft Research in Cambridge. They see some fascinating work around multitouch and some almost magical demos. They've also got a 3D printer and a laser cutter that we are now very jealous of.

Theo, Ste and Dave continue to iterate on the designs for Microblogging.

Chris B is tweaking the Android Bookmarker application to make it easier to distribute it internally. In an attempt to learn a bit more about HTML5 video and canvas he has built a simple Google Chrome extension (following Duncan's lead) which renders video with a video element and canvas transport bar.

Chris N and I spent the morning finishing our analysis work on Signatures. We need to discuss this with the rest of the team tomorrow and make a decision about next steps. We're in danger of 'analysis paralysis'...


Our stand-up took less than 10 minutes today which feels an acceptable duration. No major blockers were raised. My diary looks awful today, back to back meetings until 16:00.

Theo is up in Manchester attending the first part of the Remote Control Project workshop in Manchester, organised by Maxine and Connor, and run by It should be a great opportunity to experiment with the Arduino kit.

Chris N and I spend a few hours taking the others through the Signatures analysis, and we reach a consensus on the way forward. We end up with some interesting spin-off projects; one to discuss with Audio & Music; and a smaller spike we're going to spend the next few weeks on (not really Signatures but interesting). We're not sure what to call it yet.

Quick team chat about how best to use some new office space. Splitting the team up isn't ideal but we're at bursting point in our current one.

Much of the team is preparing demos, handing round the demo laptop installing things, for tomorrow's visit by Matthew, our boss, where we're going to be showing our last quarter's work. Unfortunately Vicky isn't in tomorrow so I hope we do the Multitouch work justice.

Review of Resolver in the afternoon with the sponsors, Chris K and Andy P. I think we get the main points across, maybe just need a bit of work on how to present the concepts.


We do a run through in the morning, all demos are working. Unfortunately, we are going to miss this afternoon's kick-off for the Winter Olympics hacking session which is taking place over the next week. We'll try and contribute something if we have time and inspiration.

The afternoon is spent presenting to Matthew. Everything seemed to go well, so team are happy.


A few of us spend the morning in the final big review session of Resolver with the indie. We're pretty much done, aside from a final sanity check with Matthew. Next week will just be the final write up of the report and presentation.

Theo had a great time up at the remote control workshop and is looking forward to hacking on his 'Guess Who' idea next week.

Chris N and Chris B have started looking at some public music trending API's. We're going to sit down tomorrow and plan out an iteration zero.

Sounds like the Microblogging project have an interesting idea around events the BBC is interested in, like the Winter Olympics.


Vicky has brought in a selection of some nice cakes to say farewell and thanks to Ste (Design Trainee) who's been with us for three weeks. He's done some great work on the Microblogging project and is now, sadly, off to Audio & Music for his next placement.

Tris has done some good thinking about a possible scope for 'Coventry', that's the new codename for the Signatures project. Chris N, Chris B and I meet with Vicky to break this down into some high level stories/tasks.

We get a plan together for finishing off the Presence work, looks like we can do it in parallel with the Microblogging project.

The Designers have an ideas session around the events concept; it will be interesting to see what they come up with.

I finish the day tidying up some finance spreadsheets, always a great way to end the week....

Subtitles + Internet = Advanced TV Research

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 15:00 UK time, Tuesday, 16 February 2010

In one of the last of the short films we recently produced with Quentin Cooper, he mets up once more with Andrew McParland to take a look at recent developents in delivering subtitles over the internet.   A pretty unassuming development one may think at first, but as Andrew goes on to explain, having cracked the technical challenges posed by this task, a whole host of new possibilities open up!

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BBC R&D Heritage Microphones

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 12:00 UK time, Sunday, 14 February 2010

As the department collected together its equipment and tools for relocation to Centre House, the opportunity arose to take a look at some of the heritage equipment developed over the years. In this film Chris Chambers, Principal Engineer, shows Quentin Cooper some of the iconic microphones that have been developed over the years at the BBC.

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Weeknotes #1 (12/02/2010)

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Tristan Ferne | 17:57 UK time, Friday, 12 February 2010

Today we are starting a little experiment in the Prototyping team, a series of posts called weeknotes. Weeknotes are intended to give you an insight into what we’ve been doing during the week, how we work and the kind of thing we do, rather than any specifics about projects. We can’t always talk about our projects because some of them are sensitive or confidential, but those that we are allowed to talk about publicly should get separate blog posts. And don’t forget that we’re R&D so everything you read about here are explorations or prototypes. The Prototyping team consists of 12 people within R&D (we vary with some part-timers, attachments and freelancers) and we are a mix of software engineers, designers and production staff.

Weeknotes will be written alternately by myself (lead producer), Chris (our program manager) and George (the team leader). The idea for weeknotes originally came from Matt at Berg, and you can see other company’s weeknotes at


Not a good start to weeknotes - I injured my knee over the weekend so I’m stuck at home. This week we’re kicking off a couple of new projects and we’ve allocated half of the team on each, we’re trying to reduce the number of simultaneous projects because we’ve had a few too many recently and it gets a bit crazy.

I was supposed to be running a workshop to kick off a week’s work on Signatures [a project investigating musical taste]. Despite this the team crack on with some deep conversations, but the problem’s quite a hard one and it’s a day of banging heads against table tops. We also started work on the Microblogging project [a project to support the BBC presence on microblogging platforms]. George has been writing story cards for this - to the team’s delight (it’s been a while since he “embraced” agile).

In team news, Dave joins the design team for a few weeks starting from today. That means it’s double its usual size because we’ve also got Ste, a design trainee, with us for a month. And Duncan releases one of his home/work projects, he seems to do them entirely on his train journey. It’s a Google Chrome browser extension to display Now and Next information for BBC TV and radio schedules. There’s more on his blog.


I have a phone conference with the Signatures team in the afternoon, I think I ask too many questions and maybe set them back a bit. George has a shocker of a day - a finance telco, then our management meeting, then an EU telco, followed by a use case discussion for a project, then an interesting chat around possible new location based services.


George met his boss for breakfast first thing, and thus was bleary eyed from then on. I’m back in the office today and overnight Chris G has taken a step back from Signatures and has scribbled down a good framework to continue the work. I think we’re getting somewhere. We show Mythology [a recently completed project about narrative and stories] and some other projects to Adrian, down from R&D North, and they seem to go down well. There’s lots of whiteboarding going on in the Microblogging team, I’ll have to ask them how they’re doing. They’ve got a very exciting Kanban board with pictures on. Turns out the designers on this were mapping out the various elements of the service. Ste then took on the graphing and Dave took the site layout.

The afternoon is taken up by a Resolver progress meeting with an external company who are doing the work. It’s primarily a feasibility study with a couple of weeks to go, but as it goes on, although we come up with more issues and problems, we now have some really good answers and ideas and it’s getting pretty exciting.


Team standup in the morning, almost all the projects look good. Vicky is setting up our demo/meeting room for some Multitouch focus groups at the weekend [we’re investigating multitouch/multiuser interfaces] which means we have to find somewhere else for our Signatures workshop. We’re getting even more down about this now, but we start some competitor analysis to see where we might fit. Theo buys some exceedingly good cakes to keep us going.

Meanwhile Duncan’s been adding personalised reminders to his Chrome extension and playing with Webkit transitions and keyframes. And on Microblogging Sean has started writing code to access the data stream and is now looking at ways to chop up the data and the designers are iterating the design of the service and drafting some beautiful graphs.


Well, I’m tidying these notes and double-checking them with Chris G and George while thinking about Signatures. Theo’s taking a day off from Signatures to let his brain cool and think about his project documentation ideas instead, while Chris G and Chris N are ploughing on. I’m reasonably happy because although we may not crack this completely, we will at least have done a decent study of the problem area with a good list of product ideas.

Vicky hands over the multi-touch work to Conor and Maxine for tomorrow’s focus group testing and they do a quick run through of the demos, there are a couple of minor bugs but everyone seems happy. Bill T from the BBC’s Archive team comes in to see some of latest projects and discuss possible collaboration, and immediately after Andrew from Vision meets us to talk about ideas for new services. A busy afternoon to round off the week.

The BBC Scotland Prototype Programme

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Brendan Crowther Brendan Crowther | 17:00 UK time, Thursday, 11 February 2010

[Editor: Brendan Crowther of R&D is currently on attachment with New Media in BBC Scotland. At the moment he's coordinating their long running Prototype programme, a collaboration with a Scottish university]

Prototype - BBC Scotland New Media's collaboration with the University of Abertay - kicked off on Monday with a development workshop at Pacific Quay in Glasgow. The project sees BBC staff working with third year students from the university taken from the following courses:

  • BA(Hons) Game Design and Production Management
  • BA(Hons) Computer Arts
  • BA (Hons) Visual Communication and Media Design
  • BA (Hons) Creative Sound Production
  • MSc (Hons) Computer Games Technology

The students work with BBC designers and programmers on technology briefs focussed around current BBC priorities. The results feed into the development of future BBC services. Ant Miller was with us on Monday briefing the teams on R&D's present objectives.

Prototype students settle in to their dedicated Lab at BBC Pacific Quay

At the moment the teams are working on multi-platform products which include a toolset to create sound and motion control games deployable across a bunch of different platforms and a music app that lets festival crowds beatbox to produce looped music tracks. Instruction & feedback in the latter is handled through big screens and the light and audio setups on the stage.

We had another brainstorming session earlier on today where we were looking at:

  • Playful archive experiences which allow users to build profiles by navigating and tagging content.
  • Games for 3-6 year olds which teach the basics of engineering principles. With this we're looking at letting them print off templates, make objects with mum or dad and then see how those objects behave in an online simulation.
  • How to link real life cityscapes, online maps and music to create location based playlists based around parameters such as geography, architecture, ethnicity and culture.

The teams are well on course to deliver their results a week on Friday. So far we've got rough demos of objects controlled by sound and motion, multi-tracked music for use with the beatbox game and a bunch of different visualisation options for both the music and motion/sound controlled games.

The student and BBC team members

We've got a feedback/presentation session for the BBC stakeholders coming up on Friday 19th Feb and another workshop kicking off on the Monday 15th March. I'll let you know how it all goes.

R&D on Radio 4 and in the News

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 12:00 UK time, Thursday, 11 February 2010

The imminent relocation of the department has piqued the interest of quite a few colleagues around the BBC, so last week some of them popped over to Kingswood Warren to have one last look around and talk to the engineers and scientists as they packed up, and to hear more about the plans for the future in the new base.

First up is Material World, hosted by our good friend and presenter of several of our own videos, Quentin Cooper.  Their show today includes a report recorded at Kingswood Warren and will be available from 4:30 this afternoon on the radio (naturally enough) and on iPlayer.

Also onsite that day was Zoe Kleinman of BBC News Online with a camera team.  The BBC News Online video is available online now.  Zoe has done a great write up of her interviews with Andy Bower, head of Operations, and Graham Thomas, who leads the Production research section.

We look forward to welcoming them back to see what we're working on and how we are getting on at Centre House.

R&D (South Lab)- Those wires!

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 17:00 UK time, Tuesday, 9 February 2010

In the video report the other week we mentioned that there are a fair few miles of wiring going into the new building. We've just received some pretty cool images from the wiring work, and we thought you may like to see what 130+ miles of cabling being wrestled into a small office building looks like!

2nd floor open plan space getting wired up.

Ground Floor Data Centre, before the wires go in.

pulling_glass_and_copper_stroke.jpgOverbury and BBC R&D staff hard at work

Even on the 3rd floor, where the management team and support staff are based, the connectivity is cutting edge.

We're now less than a week away from the first moves, with research teams due to occupy the lower floors by Monday the 15th of February.  Later that week it'll be our turn in the communications and knowledge management team to upsticks from Surrey, and the final batch of moves is just a few days after that. 

We'll go back with the cameras to shoot those historic scenes, and we've had lots of feedback to let us know that film is keenly anticipated.  Do check back with us on developments.

Oh, and sorry for last week's hiatus in posting.  There's a really good reason for it though, and we hope to share that too in the next couple of weeks.

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