Posted by Jasmine Cox, Ian Forrester on , last updated

Earlier this autumn BBC Research & Development collaborated with practitioners and academics to exhibit work at an open showcase with the Victoria and Albert Museum, as part of London Design Festival 2014. To close the festival each year the V&A host a Digital Design Weekend, celebrating contemporary design, art, & technology with demonstrations, interactive installations, talks, and workshops.

It was a weekend of splendid creativity, conversations, and inspiration; a joining of forces to shape our collective and open digital future...

The future is here. Our lives have become intricately woven digital timelines. We used to listen to stories around the campfire, now we bask in the glow of the touchscreen. Online data transactions are the protagonists, and every gesture counts, steering this compelling and ever-shifting drama. Information is our currency, but we haven’t worked out the exchange rate, not yet harnessing the power of authoring our own digital storylines.

Like all the best technologies, the web can be used to both enlighten and enslave. This is the tale of two futures. One where we blindly offer ourselves as data-mines, serving and supporting a handful of towering economic machines, and transversely, where we inhabit a future of isolation, disconnected from services and struggling to navigate and share information. How do we mediate them and shape an open Internet we actually want to exist? What role does media take? Where does a public service broadcaster fit in the vision of an open web?

The Digital Design Weekend marked an invitiation to evaluate beautiful & varied objects that collect data, and to consider the responsibilities of a more open web.

Playlister Fob Prototypes

Waves of data in motion, a flipboard display showing UK data - Uniform

On the Sunday morning, BBC R&D took part in a panel discussion around data. It was advertised as: ‘A panel discussion with a group of creatives bringing attention to data and privacy issues today’. This was started by a preview showing of a video work titled “The ethics of personal data in the time of the Quantified Self and Internet of Things”. Quite a mouthful but a crucial subject right now and continues BBC Research & Development’s project into this space. The panel covered a lot of ground and included the view from artists to a security expert.

Jennifer, one of the artists told the story of how she had gone through the process of making herself the CEO and founder of Jennifer Lyn Morone Inc. she has made herself legally a corporation under American law. The notions of privacy, security and ownership took on a different dimension with Jennifer’s project poking at the extremes of data ownership. Inevitably lots of questions followed, as this is a very uncomfortable subject for some. The preview video will be published on this blog later this year.

Weather data from 14th November 1922

UK weather charts from the 14th November 1922, the date of the first BBC radio broadcast - Met Office

Traditional publishing was challenged by a storytelling project from Penguin Random House. YourFry is an open brief to remix and repurpose the work of Stephen Fry, and will reward bold interpretations of the writings, themes, and metadata. The project aims to provide a spark for innovative ideas and new conversations by releasing copyrighted material to artists, engineers, & authors for them to create to their hearts content.


Physical data, transforming local statistics into captivating 3D graphs - Microsoft Research

Tim Regan & from Microsoft Research showed a selection of physical (and constantly moving) data visualisations of traffic on a road in Cambridge. The work is part of Big Data & Society, a data collection and mapping project to understand the flow of life within a community and to reflect it back to local residents in clear, concise, and enchanting ways. The data visualisers themselves are precision engineered fun, using worm gears & stepper motors to whip-up brightly patterned pie charts, and synchronised tape measures to elegantly raise bar graphs.

The 7 Lamps of Making

The 7 Lamps of Making - Dean Brown & FABRICA


Restart Parties

Don't bin it, learn to fix it! Visitors mend their own technology - The Restart Project

Playlister Fob Prototypes

Playlister Fob prototypes and app in progress - BBC R&D

BBC R&D also showed development work including the Perceptive Radio & Playlister Fob.

We’ve all been there; you hear an inspirational piece of music, a gem from Radio 6 Music - unlike anything you’ve heard before, or yet another classic comedy revelation on the R1 Breakfast Show. It’s a moment of broadcast you want to cherish forever, learn more about and share with friends. But you’re driving, or your hands are busy with the washing-up. You tell yourself to remember it, but by the time you get round to looking it up on your phone, it’s gone…

BBC R&D are developing Playlister Fobs, (one step beyond our first iteration prototype) small, single-touch buttons that work with the BBC’s music service, Playlister, to save moments of broadcast. These fobs can be used when listening to any of the six networks currently served by BBC Playlister, on any live platform (FM, DAB, online streamed).
Your Fob is a handy nomadic button; it can follow you wherever you go, ensuring you don’t need to find your phone to save that exceptional song. This research will drive understanding of: The scope for media interactions beyond ‘the four screens'. The utility of small control devices as connected products vs smartphone applications. And connecting audiences to their beloved radio stations in new ways.

The Perceptive Radio

The Perceptive Radio - BBC R&D

Perceptive Radio combines the notion of the ‘Internet of Things’ with perceptive technology (sensing, insight and algorithms) to bring home good old-fashioned immersive storytelling. It is a networked object that can deliver tailored media experiences sympathetic to domestic environments, without being disruptive or jarring.

Being a physical but networked object gives it presence, tangible and more real than a laptop playing the same content. The radio deceives by being an enchanted object in your home, watching and recognising the audience’s mood and reaction to content it plays. The changes are subtle and easily missed, rather than abrupt changes that would take the audience out of the immersion. The radio throws up a number of intriguing ethical questions while sitting there listening and perceiving you.

The exhibition brought together designers, thinkers, and makers from Microsoft Research, The Met Office, Uniform, Penguin Random House, The RCA, REACT Hub, The Restart Project, FABRICA, and Dundee, Lancaster, & Falmouth Universities.