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Audio personalisation for Accessible Augmented Reality Narratives (MSc by Research)


Department of Electronic Engineering

About the Project

We are seeking a suitable candidate to conduct a 1 year fully funded MSc by Research on the topic of enhancing accessibility in Augmented Reality experiences through Enhanced Audio Description (EAD). This project is a collaboration between the University of York Department of Electronic Engineering AudioLab (https://audiolab.york.ac.uk/) and BBC Research and Development (https://www.bbc.co.uk/rd), through the XR Stories AHRC Creative Cluster R&D Partnership (https://xrstories.co.uk/).

Audio description (AD) is an accessibility strategy for visually impaired audiences using superimposed third-person narration to describe visual elements. EAD is an alternative approach developed at York, which conveys these visual elements instead through soundtrack enhancement, spatial audio, and first-person character narration. However, the use of EAD within fully immersive XR narrative experiences, which allow six-degrees of freedom interaction, has not been explored.

Of the XR mediums, Augmented Reality (AR); where virtual characters and narrative events unfold in the physical environment of the consumer, presents the largest challenge. As in other mediums, AR accessibility strategies need to ensure the narrative elements are conveyed, but they must also include appropriate navigation cues so that the consumer can explore the story world freely.

The successful candidate will explore this challenge, working with York AudioLab and BBC R&D to build directly on Kearney and Lopez’s EAD research and previous accessible audio work for hard of hearing audiences by Ward and BBC R&D. In this MSc, they will identify a hierarchy of soundtrack elements necessary for personalisation of AR experiences such that both narratively important and navigational cues are preserved. The student will develop a prototype AR narrative experience that will be directly informed by focus groups with visually impaired XR users as well as AR content creators. Participants in these groups will also be asked to rank soundtrack elements on importance for narrative understanding and navigation. The prototype will then be used to develop a narrative and navigational hierarchy of soundtrack elements for the purpose of personalisation.

The successful applicant should have a strong interest in sound and immersive audio technology, as well as a keenness for improving accessibility in media. Experience or interest in subjective experiments or user experience testing, and a basic understanding of statistics would also be beneficial. The successful candidate will study in the Department of Electronic Engineering AudioLab at the University of York supervised by Gavin Kearney and Lauren Ward, and collaborate with Chris Pike at BBC Research and Development.

Candidates must have (or expect to obtain) a minimum of a UK upper second-class honours degree (2.1) or equivalent in Computer Science, Electronic Engineering, Music Technology or a related subject.

This MSc by Research is due to start 1st November 2020.

How to apply:
Applicants must apply via the University’s online application system at https://www.york.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/apply/. Please read the application guidance first so that you understand the various steps in the application process. To apply, please select the MSc by Research in Electronic Engineering or Music Technology for October 2020 entry. Please specify in your MSc application that you would like to be considered for this studentship.

The closing date for applications is Monday 5th October 2020. Select candidates will be asked to attend a short interview approximately 1 week after the closing date.

For informal enquires please contact Dr. Gavin Kearney ().

Funding Notes

The studentship will cover the tuition fee at the home/EU rate (£4,407 in 2020/21) and a stipend at the standard research council rate for one year (£15,285 in 2020/21). International (non-EU) candidates are also welcome to apply but will be required to pay the difference between the UK/EU and international tuition fee rates (approximately £17,000 for the duration of the programme).

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