Concept photo of Doctor Who Time Lord travelling through space and time out of frame tablet device.

Buzzwords: Doctor Who, ‘Spidey sense’, AI pet care and football fan interactivity

Image credit: Photodynamx |

From going on an adventure with a Time Lord to ‘Spidey sense’ applications, here are the stories that make words like virtual reality and drones ‘buzz’ on our brains.

Virtual reality

Sonic screwdrivers at the ready!

If you are a fan of this British science fiction TV programme, and perhaps virtual reality, then this would be right up your alley... The BBC has launched Doctor Who’s first-ever VR episode.

Jodie Whittaker reprises her role as the Doctor – in cartoon form – for this animated interactive story from the BBC and Passion Animation studios.

In the episode, called ‘The Runaway’, viewers will expect to wake up in the Time Lord’s iconic Tardis following a space accident. Then, they will immediately be involved in an emergency situation as the Doctor tries to take a cute but rather volatile alien occupant back to its home planet.

Perhaps you want to invest 12-13 minutes of your life piloting the Time Lord’s ship or use the Doctor’s Sonic Screwdriver in VR... perhaps you don’t. But the fact that they managed to produce an VR experience with Pixar-quality animation on a TV budget is remarkable, as the head of the BBC VR hub, Zilla Watson enthuses.

Watson praises the performance of Whittaker and writer Victoria Asare-Archer, describing the episode as “a magical adventure” that “shows the enormous potential virtual reality has for creating new kinds of experiences that appeal to mainstream audiences”.

Also, according to Watson, as the story unfolds, at times you get the urge to peer round the corners and see a bit more of the console, and the script cleverly delivers a few surprises where action suddenly develops away from where your attention has been focused.

The experience is already available and downloadable for free from the Oculus Store and Vive Port for use on Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

The BBC will also be placing it in over 40 libraries around the UK for people without headsets at home. For every VR project, Watson adds, the company is trying to get a broader audience interested in putting on a headset, perhaps for the first time.

With the increasing use of VR kits in the household, it’s only fitting that a media conglomerate as large as the BBC finally embraces the technology. And what better way to do it first but through the science fiction genre?


Embedding superhero sensing abilities

If you have seen any of Marvel’s Spider-Man films, you’ll know that Spidey’s alter ego (or rather, ego) Peter Parker can sense when danger is coming far in advance. But what if this so-called ‘spidey sense’ could be applied to future autonomous drones and cars? This is what a team at Purdue University in Indiana have been investigating.

Andres Arrieta, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the university, claims that if these systems have a spidey sense, then they might actually detect and avoid objects better, as they would process sensory information faster.

To achieve this, researchers have built sensors inspired by spiders, bats, birds and other animals, whose actual senses are nerve endings linked to special neurons known as mechano­receptors.

These biological mechano­sensors filter the information they receive from their environment, such as changes in pressure or temperature. Beyond a certain threshold, the sensors detect a threat and generate a reflex response, causing the creature to react quickly to the situation.

Researchers are building spider-inspired sensors into the shells of autonomous drones

Researchers are building spider-inspired sensors into the shells of autonomous drones

Image credit: Illustration by Taylor Caller

Artificial intelligence 

Cat café trials AI pet care

The longest running cat café in the UK is set to trial digital pet health monitoring technology to provide insights into the behaviour, rest and activity patterns of its cats.

Collaborating with Felcana, a London-based pet health monitoring and telemedicine company, which develops health monitoring products and services for cats and dogs, Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is conducting a study which supports the continued research into how digital technology can be used to promote animal welfare.

If AI can detect diagnosis in a cancer patient, for example, quicker than through more traditional methods, then perhaps using it to monitor the health of pooches or feline fur babies (and other adorable creatures) can actually be of benefit for not only the pets themselves, but also their owners and veterinarians.

I highly support these trials if it means my own ‘bubba’ and many other people’s pets could be more protected and healthier.

Cat wearing Felcana product

Image credit: Felcana


Football gone digital 

Premier League football club West Ham United plan to introduce a new ‘fan engagement’ platform that will allow supporters to buy the right to vote on selected club decisions through blockchain technology.

The blockchain-based platform,, enables supporters of the club to purchase fan ‘tokens’ or to earn or ‘hunt’ them through games, in order to take part in club polls, including decisions on ‘third kit’ designs and other fan experience issues.

I’m no football fan, but perhaps some of you very well may be. And such a platform will not only benefit the club, giving them “the ability to interact and get direct feedback in real time” from supporters as part of an engagement strategy, but will also make football fans have a more interactive and engaging experience.

Of course, if this platform on the West Ham front becomes a hit, other Premier League teams may follow suit. Digitalising for the sake of harmony for all football enthusiasts.

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