Archives for July 2012

Augmented Reality Athletics

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Robert Dawes | 14:00 UK time, Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Augmented Reality Athlete at work!

 A slightly rotund member of the R&D team manages a world record thrashing sprint... but how?

Recently launched on the BBC Sport London 2012 website is an application developed by BBC R&D that allows you to compare your own performances against professional athletes and puts you in the heart of the action. In this blog post I hope to give an insight into development of the application and explain what’s going on under the bonnet.

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Opening Up the Archives: Part 6- New Kinds of Metadata

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 15:00 UK time, Thursday, 26 July 2012

In the sixth and final part of the film about R&D's work in archive technologies we take an in depth look at the advanced work exploring new kinds of metadata.  Essential for finding content in the digital era, metadata is often unavailable or hard to work with for older archive material.  By using advanced digital analysis techniques, and harnessing the capabilities of hundreds of human volunteers, the archive R&D team is developing tools that will keep the treasures of the archive at the fingertips of program makers and, hopefully, the public, for years to come.

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To catch up on previous parts of this film go to this page that lists all the posts on the blog with the Opening Up the Archives tag.  Huge thanks to Alex Mansfeild, erstwhile producer of such shows as Material World on Radio 4, for his great work in presenting these films for us.  And thanks again to our camera op, director and editor, the estimable David Allen.  Gentlemen, we thank you.

IRFS Weeknotes #117

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Chris Godbert | 11:15 UK time, Friday, 20 July 2012

It feels like things are really starting to come together on the two big projects most of the team are working on (ABC-IP and FI-Content). We're re-using code, ideas and learning from a raft of recent work, there's lots of pairing and discussion happening all around and the office walls are crammed with wireframes. Here's a quick round-up of what's been happening on them and our other projects this last week.....

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Opening Up the Archives: Part 5- Finding the Content

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Ant Miller Ant Miller | 11:50 UK time, Wednesday, 18 July 2012

After a brief hiatus we are returning to our continuing serial- Opening Up the Archives.  In this week's episode Alex Mansfield introduces us to the complexities and challenges of metadata.   From the written archives come a lifetime's worth of Radio Times back copies, which Bill Thompson explains are in fact crucial repositories of historical information about broadcasting in the UK. 


Radios Times 9-15th February 1985. Part of the archive of Radio Times that provides a crucial historical metadata store for the BBC.


 And back in the archives themselves, Alex waxes lyrical on the nature of one of the finest recordings within the BBC's extensive collection.

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 Our final episode will be posted next week, and to see previous episodes go to this listing of all the blog posts in this series.

IRFS Weeknotes #116

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Chris Lowis Chris Lowis | 12:00 UK time, Monday, 16 July 2012

During the summer months the team are concentrating on two main projects, with the unhelpful abbreviations ABC-IP and FI-CONTENT. We'll cover the main developments in those first, and then take a look at what else is happening around the team.

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IRFS Weeknotes #115

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George Wright George Wright | 09:13 UK time, Wednesday, 11 July 2012

This week, Andrew N grappled with data models and tried to output the data from the ABC-IP Tagging Experiment into a format for Shauna to analyse. It's mind-bending stuff. He also worked on surfacing more images on the episode pages to help Pete follow some possible design directions on the World Service prototype, while Pete returned the favour by doing UX thinking and wireframing for it. Chris L added user registration and login using the ever-excellent OmniAuth library. Yves spent a lot of time this week preparing things for IBC, including a paper on the automated tagging work in the archive technology session, a booth in the Future Zone, and a panel discussion. He spent some time setting up automated deployment for the prototype, adding tag aggregations and programme brand aggregations, and putting pagination in various places. He also included tags derived from synopsis, titles and associated web pages in the set of tags displayed on episode pages, which were derived using a custom instance of Wikipedia Miner over the last week. And we are almost done automatically generating tags from subtitles for another large archive of BBC programmes.

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Audio on the Web - Knobs and Waves

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Olivier Thereaux | 13:42 UK time, Wednesday, 4 July 2012

This is part two of a series of blog posts on how a small BBC R&D team has been rediscovering the era of Radiophonics at the BBC, its sounds and technology, through the contemporary filter of our engagement in the W3C Audio Working Group.

After a couple of weeks of exploring articles and books on the matter, we were feeling ready to marry the sounds of the 1960s with our 2012 technology. Alongside the gunshot effects generator, about which I'd written in the first post of the series, we decided we would recreate a few of the Radiophonic Workshop's equipment with the new web audio standards:

  • A set of tape decks - the kind you could use to put together a tape loop from a set of stems;
  • A "wobbulator" -- a frequency-modulated oscillator, which today would probably be called more prosaically a "sweep generator";
  • ... and a ring modulator, the kind of equipment used to create the voice effects for the Dalek and Cybermen characters in the Dr Who series.

Pete had started thinking about the aesthetics of our demos, and within a few days he'd whipped together gorgeous interfaces for the 4 types of equipment, which Chris would later bring to life in HTML and Javascript with a mix of CSS transforms and a rather frustrating amount of scripting to adapt the interactions with knobs and button to the screen-and-mouse paradigm.

Annotated interface sketches.

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Breaking Out - An Audio Experiment

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Anthony Churnside Anthony Churnside | 20:30 UK time, Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Today BBC R&D launch an experiment into a new editorial format. Breaking Out is an audio play that has been created in a rather novel way.

The drama is set in an apartment block lift, where Harriet (who suffers from agoraphobia) decides to venture outside for the first time since moving in. The lift in which she is travelling gets stuck, and she begins to have second thoughts about going outside.

I am not going to go into much detail about why this is a novel editorial format, I’m being vague intentionally, but in a few weeks I’ll publish a follow up post which will give a bit more detail of how it does what it does, and how we made it. This is because we want the people who listen to the play to provide us with some feedback (there is a link at the end of play).

Until then, plug in your speakers or headphones and head over to this link to hear it. One thing I will say is the play uses a new audio standard, the Web Audio API. This is so new that the only browser to support our implementation fully at the moment is Chrome (FireFox and Opera work a bit). So for the best experience the latest version of Chrome is recommended.

Follow this link to hear the audio play. Ian Forrester talks more about this type of content here.


What is Perceptive Media?

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Ian Forrester Ian Forrester | 14:55 UK time, Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Perceptive Media has not been formally explained, only mentioned in passing here.

However, outside the formal channels of BBC R&D, there’s been much talk about the concept of Perceptive media.

What it is, what it enables and its potential impact on traditional broadcasting.

In February this year, I gave a brief talk at Manchester’s Social Media Cafe. It was very early thinking from some of the people in BBC R&D north lab mainly myself and Anthony, but was written up by Martin Bryant journalist at the Next Web, who spotted the potential in the idea.

“The bbc is experimenting with perceptive media and it could transform tv forever” – reading the headline which was a little sensential but understandable

He was not wrong, the excitement around this combination of technologies was clearly a interesting proposition. Since the article came to light, we’ve had a large number of people inquiring to know more about the concept.

It became clear we needed to demonstrate what we mean when we say the words Perceptive Media. As the examples we were pointing to were all lacking in different areas. There was also alot of confusion between Perceptive media, Pervasive media and Personalised media. Clearly time to move from concept to prototype.

What is Perceptive Media?

From my own words,

“Perceptive Media, takes narrative back to something more aligned to a storyteller and a audience around a campfire using internet technologies and sensibility to create something closer to a personal theatre experience in your living room.”

Perceptive Media adapts the story to the audience without them having to explicitly interact with it, it uses information about the audience to adapt the story within a scope defined by the storyteller.
Once you start to see narrative as a set of variables its easy to see many other opportunities. What Perceptive Media trys to do is remove the broadcast technology barrier between the storyteller and the audience. It takes advantage of the implicit and explicit data we all generate, without triggering a privacy problem.


Perceptive Media can fit well with the BBC remit of inform, educate and entertain.

  • It can makes our stories more relevant to the audience.
  • It cam enables alternative learning styles to be accommodated in a single programme
  • It can stretch our audience’s horizons by introducing challenging elements or take our audience on new journeys

Early examples

To date most of the work in this area have been unsubtle. For example Take this Lollipop, the Facebook app which was big news late last year, would use your personal social data to fill in the blanks within a strict storyline. Its use of the technology was in your face and unsubtle. The experiment we created is much more subtle and it should almost feel like a tradional audioplay.

Most people may not even notice and assume it was selected by the storyteller in advance. But the effect of having your town’s landmarks weaved into the narrative in a intelligent natrual way, we think could add to the overall engagement level in a way which storytellers have been trying to do for decades with interactive media.

Perceptive media isn’t interactive in any way but it does build on many of the interactive media concepts before. Storytellers use the skills found in games narrative designers, in understanding how to expose more of the fictional world they have created to the audience.

Research questions

Our first prototype is an audioplay called "Breaking out."

The audioplay throws up a number of research questions including theories about media bubbles, media consumption, audience experiences and the shared experience. All things we seek to uncover using our prototype and the short survey which follows it.

No matter what you feel about broadcasting it has been with us for over 100 years and the BBC has been at the forefront engaging, educating and entertaining whenever possible. With thoughtful uses of Perceptive media we can re-imagine media and make it highly relevant without taking the narrative off the rails. Taking the best parts of Internet/IP technology and the ability to broadcast to many people in a timely fashion.

We urge you to listen and give us your honest feedback after hearing the audioplay, we will publiclly feedback some of the points you make and ultimately it will help us shape this new and exciting format into the future.

Perceptive Media is one step closer to reality

If you are interested in covering Perceptive Media from a Media point of view, please contact us on

IRFS Weeknotes #114

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Andrew Nicolaou | 13:44 UK time, Monday, 2 July 2012

Week 114 started in full swing on our FI-Content project by looking at the interaction models for authentication on TV that Theo and Joanne developed last week. The team assessed their feasibility and which ones would meet the deliverable requirements. In parallel to this, there was lots of attention on the Chrome extension user trial that ended on Monday and best ways to extract the data. Joanne's been juggling designing data analysis methodology with wireframing initial user experience for the authentication strand. Parallel to all this Barbara's been working with Chris Needham on actions needed following the plenary meeting he attended last week. It's going to be a busy summer on the FI front.

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