The BBC has announced it is currently working on its very own voice assistant for Windows users.
The tool, called Beeb, is similar to voice assistants owned by private companies such as Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana and Google Assistant. However, it is currently in the beta phase, meaning not all of its features are working properly yet.
When it is finished, the tool will be the first public service voice assistant.
Who can use Beeb?
Currently UK members of Microsoft's Windows Insider programme (who are using the most recent, May 2020 Windows 10 operating system) can install Beeb via the Windows Store.
Users will also need an account for the BBC's streaming services, iPlayer and Sounds, to use Beeb.
Unlike other voice control digital assistants on the market, the BBC has decided against producing its own hardware, and instead plans to eventually integrate Beeb into its software and services.
A representative for the BBC explained the vision for future use of the free product, saying, “Ultimately we envision that Beeb will be available across a wide range of devices, including smart speakers, mobiles, televisions and many others.”
What can it currently do?
The beta version of the voice assistant will be able to access BBC services such as news, radio, weather, music, and podcasts, as well as answer queries about certain BBC programmes.
According to the BBC, new features will be added in the "coming weeks and months" alongside an "ambitious vision" for Beeb, yet there remains "a long way to go" before it is fully complete.
Currently, the beta version of Beeb can understand the following commands:
"Update me” - This receives a response detailing the latest BBC news
"Play Radio 1” - Users can also request a specific show
"Tell me a fact” - This results in the voice of QI presenter Sandi Toksvig telling the user some trivia from the TV programme
The tool also responds to less straightforward, unique commands such as, "Tell me a joke", as well as questions about its own opinions such as, "Do you like Killing Eve?"
The BBC said, "This is still a very early version, which means that not everything will be working perfectly from day one, and the future Beeb assistant will be able to do a lot more."
Understanding regional accents
The team behind Beeb, have been "working hard" to make sure the tool can answer questions and understand commands given by a range of regional accents.
Additionally, on the beta version, users will be asked what accent they have in order for their voice to help train the assistant in understanding more accents.
To comfort those concerned with their privacy when using the tool, the BBC says that Beeb will not keep any recordings of your commands. However, they will keep anonymised transcripts detailing the first few seconds of speech following the use of the start command, "OK Beeb".