AI start-up helps steel industry oral history project

A Tees Valley start-up which uses artificial intelligence software to recognise words and objects in digital content is helping researchers document an oral history of the region’s steel industry.

Vlogbase was founded by Teesside University graduates Luke Stephenson and Andy Surtees and has developed online software to allow users to scan through video and audio content using search engine functionality.

The pair have worked with the Steel Stories project to digitise more than 35 hours of audio recordings of men and women connected with the former SSI plant at Redcar, talking about the significance of Teesside’s steel industry and its impact upon the world.

Steel Stories is a joint project carried out by researchers at Teesside University, together with the Kirkleatham Museum near Redcar, to record the lives of Teesside’s men and women of iron and steel.

The research team is led by professor Natasha Vall, associate dean (research and innovation) in the School of Social Sciences, Humanities and Law; and Dr Joan Heggie, a research fellow and formerly the project manager of the British Steel Archive Project.

By using Vlogbase’s technology they were able to quickly access pertinent information in the recordings simply by typing the relevant term.

The software searches through the recordings and instantly highlights the point in the audio where that particular word is spoken, saving the research team hours of transcribing and searching through the material.

Vlogbase is based at Teesside Launchpad, Teesside University’s enterprise engine which provides a vibrant campus environment for pre-starts, new companies and students with creative spaces to start-up, experiment and collaborate.

It received support from the DigitalCity fellowship accelerator programme which offers advice, mentoring and funding to early-stage businesses.

Luke and Andy previously ran a video production company and a sound engineering business and founded Vlogbase after collaborating to produce a corporate video for an Australian client.

After spending hours sifting through huge amounts of digital content which had been sent through from their client they decided to investigate whether they could develop a more efficient method of finding material they needed.

Vlogbase’s software uses AI to recognise objects, words and actions within a digital file and has myriad uses in areas such as video production, libraries and archives.

Luke said: “From a user’s perspective, it’s very simple, it’s just a line of code that they add into their website and allows them to search their entire archive.

“We’re really excited about the potential for this product and it’s fantastic that we’ve already been able to use it to help Steel Stories and the feedback so far is that it has been an invaluable tool in their research.”

Professor Vall said: “This technology has allowed us to bring to life the rich material that is contained within the steel stories oral history interviews.

“Oral memories are a fragile yet extremely important part of our heritage, particularly in an industrial region experiencing rapid change.

“This technology has allowed us to see new ways in which we can preserve, curate and most importantly, engage existing and new audiences with these memories of the industrial region.”

Dr Joan Heggie said: “We are delighted to have been able to work with Vlogbase.

“Not only have we found the technology extremely helpful in our own research but hopefully, by working with Luke and Andy to help refine their product to user needs, it will help them reach new clients and make a significant impact in the world of digital archiving, particularly in the heritage and cultural sectors.”

To learn more about Teesside University’s services to business visit www.tees.ac.uk/business

 

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