BBC shows off 'perceptive radio' that can alter scripts

By Dave Lee
Technology reporter, BBC News

image captionA concept device has been created by the BBC team

A radio that is able to change a broadcast depending on where you are and what you are doing has been demonstrated by the BBC.

The Perceptive Radio, made by the corporation's Research & Development North Lab, is said to be a world first.

The team produced a computer-generated radio drama where the script altered depending on factors such as weather.

The device was shown off at the Thinking Digital Conference in Gateshead.

The proof-of-concept drama, which used a computer-generated voice for one of the characters, could adapt on the fly according to data pulled from external sources.

For instance, it could make reference to local places which would differ depending on where in the world you were.

Or it would mention weather conditions that were dependent on what was happening in the real world - such as replacing the phrase "it's sunny outside" with "it's raining".

Diverse listening

The model also included a microphone which can monitor background noise and determine whether to amplify certain sounds - such as speech - to improve the listening experience.

The team hoped this approach could lead to a more immersive listening experience.

"It's the early stages of looking at what next-generation broadcasting is," said Tony Churnside, a BBC technologist.

He added that until now radio broadcasting has been a one-size-fits-all experience - with the same content being broadcast to all, no matter their individual situation.

"Historically, our listeners have had either mono or stereo radios, but nowadays people are listening on such a variety of devices - the experience they're getting is really diverse."

He likened the radio technology to responsive web design, a technique which enables web pages to automatically change shape and configuration depending on what type of device they are being read on, such as a smartphone or tablet.

The team has created a website demonstrating a reactive radio drama based around a woman stuck in lift.

"It's a radio drama that we wanted to use to try and find out how much this localisation added to the experience of the listener," Mr Churnside added.

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