Tech Labs: Ons Tweede Huis Festival & Virtual Reality

Health care organization “Ons Tweede Huis” (Our Second Home) held a fun and informative festival in order to celebrate their 50th anniversary. To show what the future could hold for engaging, entertaining and caring for their patients, the Tech Labs of the Network Institute lent a set of Virtual Reality equipment. Using the head-mounted-display visitors got an idea of what this relatively new technology could mean for them and their family in care of Ons Tweede Huis.
The festival was a great success and many visitors tried on the VR set.

Read more about the festival at the Parool website (dutch).

Training the Elderly

Doorstep scams are scams in which a con artist has a convincing, but fraudulent, story with the purpose of coming into your house and/or stealing money. Often these scams appear at the doorstep, for example when somebody wants to enter your house because they must check the electricity or with similar excuses. However, it also happens that the con artist calls you by phone (telling a story about fraudulent payments, aiming to get banking information for example) or approaches you on the street. Elderly people are often the victims of such doorstep scams, which usually have a high impact on their lives.

Within this project, we are creating a tablet application that can be used to train how to verbally act in such situations. The users both learn what to say, and how to say it, in various scenarios. They will both receive automated feedback on how they dealt with the different situations (what they said) and on the assertiveness of their voice (using an algorithm to analyze vocal signals).

This project is a collaboration between the VU and Unie KBO-PCOB.

VU staff working on this project: Romy Blankendaal, Tibor Bosse, Daniel Formolo, Charlotte Gerritsen, Laura van der Lubbe, Marco Otte

Virtually Bad

This project introduces the concept of “virtual bad guys”: intelligent virtual agents that take a negative or even aggressive stance towards the user. Although they pave the way to various interesting applications, it is hard to create virtual bad guys that are taken seriously by the user, since they are typically unable to apply serious sanctions. To address this issue, this study experimentally investigated the effect of “consequential” agents that are able to physically threaten their human interlocutors. A consequential agent was developed by equipping users with a (non-functioning) device, through which they were made to believe the agent could mildly shock them. Effects on participants’ levels of anxiety and (physiological and self-reported) stress were measured, and the role of presence and perceived believability of the virtual agent was assessed. The consequential agent triggered a stronger physiological stress response than the non-consequential agent, whereas self-reported levels of anxiety and stress did not significantly differ. Furthermore, while presence and believability were substantially associated with users’ stress response, both states did not mediate or explain the effect of a consequential vs. non-consequential agent on stress, as they did not significantly differ between conditions. Implications of these findings and suggestions for follow-up studies on “virtual bad guys” are discussed.

The Tech Labs helped develop the virtual environment, using the custom developed Galvanic Skin response sensor and supplying the VR equipment to run the experiment.

Researchers: Tibor Bosse, Tilo Hartmann, Romy Blankendaal, Nienke Dokter, Marco Otte

Can VR help autistic children?

In this study a virtual environment was build to see if a virtual training agent could help autistic children in trying to relate to other children. The idea was that a virtual environment feels safer and the children will more easily accept instructions and interact with the virtual agents.

The participants would sit in a chair, wear a virtual reality headset (Oculus Rift DK2) and wear a Blood-Volume-Pulse sensor on their index finger to measure heart rate.

The scene was a classroom with two children, boy and girl, and an adult trainer (male). The virtual trainer would ask the virtual children and the participant simple questions. The actual answer of the participant was not important, but the change in heart rate was. By determining a baseline heart rate at the beginning of each trial, the software checked the actual heart rate at several points in the scenario. If the heart rate was above a certain threshold, the virtual trainer would first try to calm the participant down before continuing the conversation.

Reseachers: Laura Helgering, Michel Klein

Tech Labs VR featured in Discovery Channel documentary

As most of you have probably seen in the Tech Labs Newsletters, the Tech Labs have been working on a virtual neighborhood for studying burglary. These studies are a collaboration between the NSCR (Jean-Louis van Gelder), the University of Porstmouth (Claire Nee) and the Network Institute’s Tech Labs (Marco Otte). The previous version of the Virtual Environment was used in several studies including one carried out in British prisons using actual criminals.

Discovery Channel made a short documentary of this study which features our virtual neighborhood.

At the moment we are working on the second version of the neighborhood featuring many more houses with different features offering an even more realistic environment to use in studies.

Tech Labs Newsletter Summer 2015 is available

The latest Newsletter of the Network Institute Tech Labs gives you an update on a variety of projects using the Tech Labs. There are a few very interesting new projects and an update on some familiar projects that have been running for some time now.
The Newsletter also gives a heads-up on the newest technology available at the Tech Labs for use in research or education.

Download the latest Summer 2015 Newsletter here!

For more information please take a look at the Tech Labs pages on this website or contact Marco Otte (m.otte at

Tech Labs VR in BBC Science Interview

In collaboration with Claire Nee (University of Portsmouth) and Jean-Louis van Gelder (NSCR) the Network Institute Tech Labs are creating a virtual environment to study the behaviour of burglars. The next study using this state-of-the-art environment will involve real offenders currently serving prison time in the UK.
Claire Nee was recently interviewed by the BBC about her research and how virtual reality helps understanding the burglar’s behaviour.

“The house we’re robbing isn’t real; it’s on a computer screen, part of a virtual reality program that I can control with a mouse. It’s the latest tool that Nee, a forensic psychologist at the University of Portsmouth, has been using to try to get inside the minds of burglars.”

Read the full interview here.

BurglaryV4 2015-06-17 12-26-28-95 BurglaryV4 2015-06-17 12-28-37-36

Newstracker presented at DHBenelux 2015

On June 8th, Martijn Kleppe (Faculty of Humanities) presented the set-up and first results of the Newstracker at the DHBenelux 2015 conference in Antwerp, Belgium. This tool, developed by Marco Otte of the Network Institute and supported by a Network Institute Academy Assistant aims to track the online behaviour of a group of 50 respondents. Participants installed a proxy in their web browser that tracked all visited websites. Overnight, the log file is being cleaned, only the URLs of 4.000 pre-defined websites are being saved and the textual and visual contents of news websites are being scraped and saved for later analyses. Currently, the fieldwork of the Newstracker is in its final phase and the first analyses have been made.

The Newstracker is part of the research project “The New News Consumer: User-based Innovation to Meet Paradigmatic Change in News Use and Media Habits” (see, a collaboration between the VU University Amsterdam and the University of Groningen, sponsored by The Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research (NWO) and the Dutch journalism organizations Buitenhof, De Persgroep Nederland, EenVandaag, EO, NCRV, NDC Mediagroep, Nieuwsuur, and NOS Nieuws. The project is led by prof. dr. Irene Costera Meijer. Tim Groot Kormelink works as PhD student on the project.

For more information about the Newstracker, please contact Martijn Kleppe.