Research & Development

Posted by Andrew Nicolaou on , last updated

These are weekly notes from the Internet Research & Future Services team in BBC R&D where we share what we do. We work in the open, using technology and design to make new things on the internet. You can follow us on Twitter at @bbcirfs.

It's been a bumper couple of weeks, with lots of project activity, talks and a whole-team hardware prototyping event keeping us busy.

Firstly, let’s welcome Nick Jillings, who joins us from Birmingham City University, via QMUL and has started his project using the Web Audio API to give listeners control over dynamic range compression in the browser.

Event: Physical prototyping

Last Thursday and Friday, most of the team gathered to take part in a workshop about Physical Prototyping led by our colleagues Jasmine and Cefn from the North Lab who're involved in the Internet of Things project. The goal of the two days was to teach everyone the basics of prototyping hardware and sketching experiences using simple materials. Everyone seemed to enjoy learning about electronics by building their own Arduino-compatible Shrimps with flashing LEDs and getting messy with craft materials to prototype their own ideas. On Day 2, people used their new skills by building a wide range of self-directed prototypes from an Archer Blaster Button/Barwick Obliterator to a computer-vision controlled racing car to a squirrel deterrent. We also had a geiger counter for our new website, a decentralised radio and a site-specific audio player. We’ll be writing a more in-depth blog post about the event soon and we're looking forward to using these skills to explore upcoming projects.

Project: Snippets

James tidied up some code in the Snippets transcoder and improved error handling. He’s currently working on improving monitoring of the Snippets infrastructure and services for failure detection and long-term performance trend visibility.

Gareth worked on the backend support for a couple of new search-related features: a better visualisation of the current search, and improved navigation between consecutive programmes.

Meanwhile, Rob was thinking ahead for the next phase for Snippets for Radio. This involved stakeholder meetings with folks in Radio Operations, having various discussions about hooking into internal radio broadcast system APIs and working with their metadata. This has the potential to give us much some really detailed data for our users to interrogate as well as possible links to master broadcast files.

Project: ViSTA-TV

Chris Newell and Libby spent a few days at a ViSTA-TV project meeting at the Technical University of Dortmund to do a bit of monorail spotting and to discuss live video feature extraction, recommender systems and the demonstrations planned for later this year.

Meanwhile, Chris Needham, Dan, Chris L and Tom continued working on the live media stream visualisation. We built a system to store activity stream data (from the iPlayer logs) into ElasticSearch and are now working on building ElasticSearch queries to support the user-facing web application.

Project: ABC-IP & World Service Archive

For the last quarter of the project Yves built a visualisation showing programmes within the World Service Archive prototype that relate to topics discussed on BBC News right now. This enables users to be able to find ‘hot spots’ within the archive very rapidly.

Pete returned from a holiday to sunny California, ready to work through a list of quick-fix UX improvements to the archive.

Project: R&D Website

Olivier presided over the launch of the new R&D website, although he was disappointed to find there wasn't a physical switch he could flip himself. After our hardware workshop, perhaps he could build one? A lot of our team worked on this project so it’s nice to see it out in the world and filling up with exciting projects and publications from the rest of R&D.


Barbara has been preparing the BBC’s presentation for FI–Content Phase 1 final review, liaising with partners and coordinating their inputs for the presentation.


Denise used Jana’s machine learning framework to compare timeline and whole-programme mood metadata.

Out and about

Tristan and Yves met Sam from the Open Knowledge Foundation, they’re interested in their “edit-a-thons”!

Olvier and Dan went along to Devs Love Bacon to support our own Web Audio expert Chris Lowis, who gave a presentation about our Web Audio Radiophonics project. They sent through some of their favourite talks (videos should be available soon):