Friday 24 May 2013

Your radio is talking to you

BBC R&D (Research and Development) in collaboration with creative media agency Mudlark demonstrated a new idea called Perceptive Radio this week: an old school-style radio that uses cutting edge networking technology to adapt its content to suit the unique location, environment, and actions of its listener.

Radio plays aren’t everybody’s cup of tea. They can span the gamut from atmospheric genius to irritating, trite ridiculousness, yet despite the fact they still carry the aura of a bygone era in this modern, multimedia-saturated world, radio comedies, dramas and soaps don’t seem to be disappearing. And why would they? We don’t always want to see and hear at the same time. There will always be a power and freedom in being entertained solely through our ears and imagination. Besides, it’s brilliant for multitasking. You’re not likely to bumble about making cups of tea and baking biscuits during a movie.

It makes sense, then, that far from allowing radio plays to slip back into that bygone era, BBC R&D is working to keep them cutting edge. Enter Perceptive Radio, which was recently showcased at the Thinking Digital Conference in Gateshead, using a radio drama/play called Breaking Out. The play adapts in the moment to reflect data pulled from external sources. For example, one of the character’s references weather and locations that change depending on the weather the listener is witnessing out their window, or what local places the listener is near to.

Perceptive Radio is a more specific branch of Perceptive Media in general, which aims to make media more immersive and tailored to its audience. It’s partly to do with the Internet of Things, but with Perceptive Radio, the broadcasting content doesn’t only adjust based on your location, but also the radio itself adjusts to your direct environment and what exactly you’re doing. For example, if you’re pottering around in one room, the radio will adjust the volume to reflect your proximity to it. If you suddenly switch the dishwasher on, the radio will register the spike in ambient noise and alter the depth of its audio to highlight the foreground (most likely the actors’ voices). If you’re settling down in a cosy, fireside-lit room to really listen, the radio will cut most of the treble to make it a more relaxing experience, and should your phone ring suddenly, the radio will register that too and hit pause.

No word yet on how soon (or indeed if) we can expect Perceptive Radio to become a mainstream reality. BBC R&D produced the demonstration model so they could explore next-generation audio formats and it’s still in very early stages. As with most creations dreamed up by R&D, it usually ultimately depends on audience call and demand.

For more detailed information outlining the development process behind the Perceptive Radio model, head over to co-designer Greg Povey’s post on Mudlark’s website.

Clare-Marie Grigg

Clare is the Managing Editor of Imperica.

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