Posted by BBC Research and Development on

In which we learn about puppets, work on user testing, speaker identification and natural-language processing, and some new and familiar faces (re-)join us!

It’s been two weeks of change at IRFS, as we prepare to move out of Centre House, our home for the last two years, and into our new home in the Lighthouse building. We’ve been sorting, tidying, and reflecting on the last two years, as well as doing some creative activities (led by Barbara, along with our friends in the FxT section), to help celebrate the work we’ve done and identify ways of preserving and spreading our culture and craft in our new home. In addition, we said hello to two new team members - Kristine, who re-joins us permanently after her mini-placement in Audience Data Insights, and Ollie, who’s joined the Data team on his final graduate scheme placement - he’ll be working on the Speaker ID project.

Also this week, several of the team took part in a workshop led by David McGoran from Rusty Squid who taught us about movement, puppetry and animatronics, organised by Emma and Libby. Part of Emma’s graduate project on ‘Emotional Machines’. This taught us the ways in which movement can be used to convey emotion, and to give the illusion of life to inanimate objects. Starting with ‘breathing life’ into a piece of cloth, and moving on to creating electromechanical prototypes, we learned loads about the fundamentals of expressing emotion and life through movement, which will inform Emma’s research as well as giving us skills to use in designing our own prototypes.

There’s also been loads of user testing going on - Tim and David have been doing lab sessions to evaluate their ‘clip radio’ and ‘mixtape’ prototypes, and David and Caroline have been interviewing journalists from the BBC’s Reality Check fact-checking team to gather feedback on their use of our Quote Attribution database. Over in the Experiences team, Ant, Nicky, Andrew, Henry and Oscar have run a pilot test of ‘The Next Episode’ of Talking with Machines. Libby’s been checking out the statistics from the trial of Tellybox on Taster - in particular, our Clock prototype is the highest ever rated pilot on taster with an average of 4.9 stars out of 5! She’s now working with Alicia to create BBCThree versions of the Clock and RandomTV prototypes.

Finally, as part of our Royal Academy of Engineering Industrial Partnership with Queen Mary University, Andrew and Chris attended a morning of project presentations by MSc students who have been applying Natural Language Processing to Eastenders scripts. Their overall goal was to see whether they could train a model to identify the individual characters from their discourse but they learnt a lot of things about NLP, scripts and Eastenders characters along the way!