Posted by BBC Research and Development on

The Experiences team are pleased to announce that their voice-controlled interactive drama, The Inspection Chamber, went live on Tuesday.

The Inspection Chamber is an interactive science fiction comedy story, inspired by Douglas Adams, Franz Kafka and Portal, where you play a part in the story using your own voice. Feedback has been positive:

“Tried @BBCRD the Inspection Chamber today on @AmazonUK Alexa, brilliant! Cannot wait to see where this is going! Not gonna lie...hoping for Glados”

“Tried… with Grace - a short interactive radio play through the Alexa. Really interesting idea - hope the BBC do more like this!”

The interview and promotion tour continues - Henry met with World Service and we were also featured in the Amazon Alexa newsletter. The also team have been planning a study to evaluate The Inspection Chamber: we are in the process of recruiting participants and have been putting together a topic guide for interviews. Henry has also started planning the next version. Watch this space!

Public Service Personalised Radio Design Sprint

The Discovery Team held a design sprint, with several colleagues from R&D Future Experiences and BBC Radio & Music, to flesh out some of our ideas for a public service personalised radio service and gain some early feedback on our assumptions.


The sprint took five days, during which we went from the vaguest of initial ideas, through to evaluating a working prototype with a panel of radio listeners. It’s an intense process, but invaluable for rapidly turning our ideas into something concrete and gaining feedback on our assumptions before we commit a large amount of effort to the project.

We were joined by external facilitator and expert on ethics in design and technology Cennydd Bowles whose expertise was absolutely invaluable. Our interest in designing products which incorporate our public purposes necessitated a value sensitive approach to our design, and Cennydd’s expertise, and his experience combining this approach with the well-known Google Ventures model for design sprints meant that we could both use the time to better explore and define the values informing our design, and produce a prototype which was a tangible expression of them. (Cennydd also schooled us in the art of using Apple Keynote to produce functional prototypes which was a huge eye-opener - it took us no time at all to produce a compelling interactive demo and it’s an approach we’ll be re-using for sure).

The first half of the week involved exercises to identify stakeholder groups potentially impacted by our work (not just ‘stakeholders’ in the management sense, but anyone from ‘programme makers’ through ‘marginalised groups’ to ‘the general public in its entirety’), who then informed a ‘futures wheel’ exercise to map out the possible future consequences of our project. From this we were able to identify core values for our product which were reified into a set of design principles - these then informed our design and prototyping of the radio service itself.

We showed the prototype to a panel of radio listeners and gained some useful early insights to inform our project work - in particular, we were pleased to note that our ideas around transparency and control of personalised systems were very well received - the participants were very conscious of the need to understand how and why a personalised service makes the decisions it does, and appreciated being able to retain some agency in their use of it. Therefore, we’re now confident that a more sustained piece of work on novel approaches to personalisation which put transparency and control front and centre will be a useful contribution to the BBC’s efforts to develop personalised services, and to the field in general.

New News and Object-based Media

This is our final development and prototyping sprint on this theme so we reviewed the eight prototypes, aiming to consolidate. We picked our favourite features from each and grouped them into video patterns, article patterns and approaches to journalism. We also identified two new stories to use in the prototypes. One about Catalonia is a relatively big story and has lots of visual footage, one about Hastings Pier is a small story with much less content. These choices were designed to cover the range of stories that the BBC publishes.

Some patterns we have noted from testing is that people might like to:

  • Stay in one place, an all-in-one article
  • Build your own story
  • Go deeper (if you’re interested)
  • Give choice (particularly “I don’t want…”)

Together with Matt Brooks, Barbara has been planning the next Object-based Media session in Manchester which will focus on unpicking the current data model for the OBM Toolkit and will have people sketching and creating content experiences using it.

Barbara, Andrew and Tristan were also interviewed by Mark Lawson for a new Radio 4 series on how the Internet is influencing TV and radio!


This sprint we released a new version of the Kaldi speech-to-text software with an updated language model - the part of the system that estimates the probability of a word given the preceding words in a sentence. We used a new toolkit to generate this model which led to a modest improvement in accuracy. We also fixed a number of bugs including an issue within the voice activity detection stage of the process - this again improved the overall system performance.

Finding People

This week Ben has been working on an interface to allow an outside image annotator to verify the faces of notable people. In order to build accurate models at scale you still need a degree of human intervention, to verify that an image is who it’s supposed to be and to select a small range of seed images to check others against. As with much of our work in the Data Team, we use outside resources to do this and so this week we’ve been working on some web-based tools. Meanwhile, Denise has been evaluating news, factual and drama ground truth data by finding faces with spoken names using subtitles.


This week, Chris and Nigel have been at the W3C's TPAC conference. Chris chaired the Media & Entertainment Interest Group meeting, which heard updates on use of Web techologies in HbbTV, ATSC, IPTV Forum Japan, and the CTA WAVE project. In a breakout session, the group discussed next steps to improving support for audio and video content on the Web platform, including new requirements for Media Source Extensions, the Media Capabilities API, high dynamic range and wide gamut colour support. Chris also joined Second Screen Working Group and WebVR Community Group meetings, and heard updates on WebRTC, WebAssembly, and Web Payments, as well as interesting discussions on verifiable claims, blockchains, and fake news on the Web. Nigel chaired the Timed Text Working Group meeting.