This website is now archived. To find out what BERG did next, go to

Blog posts tagged as 'radio'

Week 350, the Hertzian view

This week saw us filming the prototypes for one of our clients, Chaco, that meant two days with a studio full of people, cameras, lights, product models and as it turns out, a huge amount of extra radio waves.

(click for larger image)

This is a visualisation by Phil Wright who is working with us. It shows the usual BERG wifi network versus the monstrous chunk of the spectrum taken up by the ‘CHACONET’. That’s what happens when you have experience prototypes that use four wifi phones, two wireless baby monitors and eight bluetooth connections.

Olinda, first look

Rabbit infront of the radio

I’m pleased to be able to bring you Olinda, the social radio prototype we’ve designed and built for BBC Audio & Music.

Tristan Ferne, who commissioned Olinda and leads the BBC Radio Labs, is currently at the Futuresonic Conference, discussing what happens when you put social networks and the Web inside consumer electronics – in particular, this radio – and is giving the folks there the very first look. But for those of us not in Manchester…

For background, photos and more, check out Olinda.

Beautiful Beolit

A couple of months back I visited Tom and Durrell at Luckybite to discuss some of the Olinda development. During our conversation, Durrell described one of his favourite portable radios, the Bang & Olufsen Beolit 600. I bought one.

Beolit radio

The range was produced between 1971 and 1981 and aside from its elegance and good audio quality, the detailing is very deft.

Radio details

Tuning with magnets

The chassis is constructed from aluminium strips, holding plastic shells front and back. The controls for the radio are spread out along the front and back edges of the top face. On the back edge are buttons for band selection and two sliders for volume and tone. The entire front edge is a horizontal tuning slider.

Tuning slider long
Tuning slider overview

The slider can be grabbed and pushed quickly up and down the length for coarse tuning. To tune precisely the two small kinked wheels are rolled under the thumb to give fine control. The remarkable detail is in how the selected frequency is indicated:

Tuning slider detail

Two very small steel bearings sit in covered grooves in the aluminium chassis, one for each tuning band. The tuning slider conceals a magnet, which drags the bearings along the scale inside their grooves (the aluminium is of course unaffected by the magnetism). The position of the bearings corresponds to markings on the surface of the radio which indicates the frequency the radio is tuned to.

It’s a really nice example of celebrating functionality. There is no functional need for the bearings. The additional cost to develop and manufacture can’t possibly have made financial sense. Why not use an arrow? But tuning is what radios do, and something which articulates this most familiar function so poetically just had to be done.

I love how the furthest bearing twitches along more slowly than the closer one.


Structurally the radio is a square of four lengths of extruded and cut aluminium, with the front and back plastic shells tucked in. What’s exciting is that taking the radio apart isn’t work: there are no machine screws or self-tappers.

Base fixings
Base fixings 02

The base plate of the radio can slide. Sliding it a little way first unlocks the back shell. Removing the back allows the base to slide more, which releases the more rarely removed front shell. All this is achieved with a clever system of grooves and nooks.

Beolit in bits

Coming off first, the back shell gives access to the battery. The front shell reveals something else.

The repair manual

Inside the front shell, there is a little envelope. Inside the envelope there is a piece of folded paper.

Beolit envelope

Screen printed on the paper are all the instructions for repairing the radio. There is an abstracted circuit diagram and also an image of the actual PCB. The radio contains its own data sheet, physically!

data sheet physical
data sheet abstract

I’ve cut these last two images together to show that the PCB and the print in the diagram are to scale (the screens were probably made from the same drawing).

data sheet and PCB

Olinda interface drawings

Last week, Tristan Ferne who leads the R&D team in BBC Audio & Music Interactive gave a talk at Radio at the Edge (written up in Radio Today). As a part of his talk he discussed progress on Olinda.

Most of the design and conceptual work for the radio is finished now. We are dealing with the remaining technicalities of bringing the radio into the world. To aid Tristan’s presentation we drew up some slides outlining how we expect the core functionality to work when the radio manifests.

Social module

Social Module sequence

This animated sequence shows how the social module is expected to work. The radio begins tuned to BBC Radio 2. A light corresponding to Matt’s radio lights up on the social module. When the lit button is pressed, the top screen reveals Matt is listening to Radio 6 Music, which is selected and the radio retunes to that station.


Tuning drawing

This detail shows how the list management will work. The radio has a dual rotary dial for tuning between the different DAB stations. The outer dial cycles through the full list of all the stations the radio has successfully scanned for. The inner dial filters the list down and cycles through the top five most listened to stations. We’ll write more on why we’ve made these choices when the radio is finished.

BBC Olinda digital radio: Social hardware

If you asked me to pick the two cards Schulze & Webb play with abandon in the consultancy game, they’d be Product and Experience.

Products should be what toy companies call shelf-demonstrable–even sitting in a box in shop, a product can explain itself to the customer (or at least tell its simplest story in a matter of seconds). Organisationally, understanding a website or component of a mobile service as a product means being able to describe it in a single sentence, means understanding the audience, means focusing on a single thing well, means having ‘this is what we are here for’ as a mantra for the team, and it means being able to (formally or informally) have metrics and goals. Here’s it in a nutshell: You know it’s a product when it has an ethos–when the customers and the team know pretty much what the product would do in any given circumstance.

Then we play Experience. The experiential approach is how you and the product live together and interact. The atoms are cognitive (psychology and perception), while the day-to-day is it’s own world: Play, sociality, cultural resonance, and more. Each of these is an area of experience to be individual understood in terms of how it can be used. The third level of experience we deal with is context: How the product is approached (physically and mentally), and how it fits in with other products, people and expectations.

We can go a long way, and make decent recommendations of directions and concrete features, with those two cards.

And now we’re making a radio. As much as we’ve said these approaches apply across media, services and (physical, consumer) product, working with physical products has recently been only in our own research. Hey, until now. Until now!

Olinda is a digital radio prototype for the BBC

For the past month we’ve been working on the feasibility of Olinda, a DAB digital radio prototype for the BBC (for non-UK readers: DAB is the local digital radio standard, getting traction globally). That stage is almost over now – oh and yes, it’s feasible – so now’s a good time to talk.

Olinda puts three ideas into practice:

  • Radios can look better than the regular ‘kitchen radio’ devices. Radios can have novel interfaces that make the whole life-cycle of listening easier. At short runs, wood is more economic as plastic, so we’re using a strong bamboo ply. And forget preset buttons: Olinda monitors your listening habits so switching between two stations is the simplest possible action, with no configuration step.
  • This can be radio for the Facebook generation. Built-in wifi connects to the internet and uses a social ‘now listening’ site the BBC already have built. Now a small number of your friends are represented on the device: A light comes on, your friend is listening; press a button and you tune in to listen to the same programme.
  • If an API works to make websites adaptive, participative with the developer community, and have more appropriate interfaces, a hardware API should work just as well. Modular hardware is achievable, so the friends functionality will be its own component operating through a documented, open, hardware API running over serial.

What Olinda isn’t is a far-future concept piece or a smoke-and-mirrors prototype. There’s no hidden Mac Mini–it’s a standalone, fully operational, social, digital radio.

The intention with Olinda is that it’s maximum 9 months out: It’s built around the same embedded DAB and wifi modules the manufacturers use. And it has to be immediately understandable and appealing for the mass market. Shelf-demonstrable is the way to go.

The BBC should be able to take it to industry partners, and for those partners to see it as free, ready-made R&D for the next product cycle. We have a communications strategy ready around this activity.

So that’s why I’m proud to say that, when complete, the BBC will put the IPR of Olinda under an attribution license–the equivalent of a BSD or Creative Commons Attribution. If a manufacturer or some person wants to make use of the ideas and design of the device, they’re free to do so without even checking with the BBC, so long as they put the BBC attribution and copyright for the IPR that’s been used on the bottom.

More later

The feasibility wraps up in the next week or so, as I budget the build phase. When build starts, we have an intern starting–perhaps two (yes, we got a great response to putting those feelers out). But that deserves its own post.

And there’s a lot to talk about. For start, what Olinda will look like (we have drawings and form experiments). And how the Product and Experience approaches will manifest.

That’s for later. In the meantime, here’s the Frontier Silicon Venice 5 module operating on a breadboard:

Venice 5

The DAB module is wrapped in insulation tape, and you can make out the stereo socket (it’s blurry because it’s standing out of the focal plane) and the antenna. Running from the breadboard is a serial cable to my computer which is assembling and decoding messages for tuning, playing, receiving radio text messages and so on.

Thanks to Tristan Ferne, Amy Taylor and John Ousby and their teams at BBC Audio & Music Interactive for making this happen.

(Incidentally: Olinda, the name of this project, is aspirational, chosen from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (Olinda is transcribed at the bottom of that page). We could do worse that help along the radio industry in the same way Calvino’s city grows.)

Recent Posts

Popular Tags