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People Behind the Council of Coaches – Episode 4

In today’s episode of “The People Behind Council of Coaches”, we present the team from Roessingh Research and Development (RRD).

Roessingh Research and Development

In Enschede, not far from the campus of the University of Twente and next to the Roessingh Centre for Rehabilitation, Roessingh Research and Development (RRD) is located. Both geographically, and organisationally close to the university and the rehabilitation centre. RRD is the biggest centre in the Netherlands where a wide range of disciplines such as rehabilitation medicine, movement sciences, psychology, physiotherapy, biomedical sciences and computer sciences work together under a single roof on current and future innovations in rehabilitation and chronic care. As an internationally recognised scientific research institute, RRD occupies a unique position between the university and healthcare practice.
RRD cooperates with the other project partners on many facets of the project such as the user requirements and evaluation processes, management and dissemination, and agent design. They are also the responsible partner for the development of the Shared Knowledge Base and the design of the coaches’ coaching strategies.

Today we are introducing the diverse team of people at RRD that are working on the Council of Coaches project.

Harm op den Akker

Harm is the project’s Technical Coordinator and was in charge of coordinating the project’s proposal. As such, Harm is poking his nose into all aspects of the project.

“I knew that the Horizon 2020 call PM-15 was an extremely competitive call. Soon after the proposal was submitted it became clear that there were a total of 186 competitors. This made it all the more exciting when we heard that the project was accepted for funding. We started working on this proposal such a long time ago, starting with a brainstorm session with many colleagues from RRD and the University of Twente. The “Council of Coaches” idea stuck. An idea that was very much inspired by the advisors in the video game Civilization II, that I used to play obsessively as a child. It’s a truly amazing opportunity to bring this idea to live, and I’m truly grateful for the consortium’s level of enthusiasm with which we are jointly tackling the ambitious challenges set out in the project’s plan.”

Lex van Velsen

At RRD Lex is mostly involved in developing new service models for telemedicine, identifying end-user needs, and writing design specifications. Furthermore, Lex is also involved in testing for end-user acceptance, and usability and user experience.

“I will apply the full range of skills and experience to the Council of Coaches project. The concept of having multiple coaches is intriguing but also a challenge as it is completely new. Who should offer these coaches? How do they interact with formal caregivers (like the family doctor, physiotherapist) and informal caregivers? How do we blend the online care of Council of Coaches with the offline care given in hospitals? It is these questions that have my full interest and which I hope to answer with the RRD team. Next, we will optimize the interaction between end-user and set of coaches during multiple iterations. I’m looking forward to seeing how patients and older adults interact with multiple coaches.”

Dennis Hofs

“I work at RRD as a software developer in various projects. Mostly I am working on mobile apps for Android, connecting to wearable sensors, and backend services and databases. What I like about this, is that I am involved in many facets of software development, such as usability, integration, performance and security. Within the Council of Coaches project I will support in the development of the shared knowledge base. Because of my background in Human Media Interaction it is fascinating to see this project evolve.”

Marijke Broekhuis

Marijke is currently doing a PhD at RRD on the usability of eHealth technology that supports the general wellbeing and healthy lifestyle of older adults.

“With a background in behavioural sciences, I find it very interesting to study end-user groups and to know more on how eHealth technologies can support the routines and habits in the daily lives of people. For the Council of Coaches project, this means mapping the health journey of older adults and getting insights in their daily life situations in which the Council of Coaches could assist older adults in adopting a healthy lifestyle. This information can be used to gather user requirements and to evaluate the usability of the prototypes against those requirements.”

Silke ter Stal

“Due to my background in Creative Technology and Human Media Interaction I am interested in how technology can be used as a medium to support and enrich people’s lives. At RRD I am currently doing a PhD focusing on the design of embodied conversational coaches within eHealth applications. In the Council of Coaches project, I am working on the creation of interesting characters that engage the user and I am researching the interaction between the user and the coaches. I believe it is essential to involve the user throughout this process in order to eventually create a rich experience for the user!”

Tessa Beinema

Tessa started her PhD research at RRD in September of 2017, when the Council of Coaches project started.

“One of the challenging aspects of the project is to create coaches that are able to provide coaching that adapts to each specific user. While for a human coach it can be very natural to decide on: ‘What do you want to have this person achieve, why, and how?’, for a virtual agent this is something we have to model before they are able to do it. This process requires knowledge on behaviour change, but also technical knowledge. That interplay between humans and computers and the challenge to create effective virtual coaches by making sure the content is as optimal as possible is what fascinates me.”

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Milestone #2 Complete!

A little delayed update, but very good news nonetheless: the second project milestone has been achieved!

The first functional prototype of the Council of Coaches system is released as a working demonstrator that can be downloaded and run with a double-click. A video of the demonstrator was also published on the project’s YouTube Channel. Is it amazing? Yes and no. Yes, because under the hood, major technical progress has been made in the integration of complex technical subsystems: the GRETA virtual agent platform of Sorbonne Universities and the ASAP virtual agent platform of the University of Twente communicate with each other and can both be instructed by the Dialogue Game Execution Platform from the University of Dundee. First steps are also made to integrate “couch specific” components: the knowledge base and holistic behavior analysis framework. On the other hand, this demonstrator might not impress the members of our target audience as much as we would like. We are aware of that. But for a three month development phase, much has been achieved. The next six months leading up to the second functional demonstrator and next project milestone will be devoted to technical improvements, but most importantly to creating an outstanding user experience for our end users.

Please take a look at a video of our first demonstrator below:

Furthermore, with this milestone, we have released a number of Public Documents, documenting important project progress:

  • D3.2: Initial coaching actions and content
  • D6.2: Initial user interface design for Home and Mobile UI
  • D7.1: System architecture and design of APIs
  • D7.2: Initial functional prototype

We look forward to sharing additional updates with you over the summer period. If you want to stay up to date with all the latest info, please follow our @Council_Coaches Twitter Account.

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Council of Coaches Position Paper Presentation @ ICT4AWE

For those of you who couldn’t make it to Funchal to join the ICT4AWE Conference, we have made the presentation available to view at your leisure!

If you’re interested in reading the paper – it is now available online at the ScitePress Digital Library.

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Milestone #1 Complete!

Thanks to an excellent project start and a lot of hard work in the first 6-month period of Council of Coaches, the first official Project Milestone “Initial Design and Requirements” was successfully completed at the end of February.

In the first six months of the project, the consortium has worked on gathering user requirements, performed state of the art literature research and described existing technology platforms that will be used in the development of the Council of Coaches prototypes. In Work Package 2, a vision on how the project will adopt a Responsible Research and Innovation approach is layed out (D2.1) and initial stakeholder analysis results are reported (D2.2). In Work Package 3, a literature overview on behaviour change theories and methods was done, serving as input for the initial design of the system’s Knowledge Base (D3.1). Similarly, in Work Package 4, a state of the art overview was compiled on sensing and profiling techniques – leading to an initial design of the Holistic Behaviour Analysis Framework (D4.1). In Work Package 5, the Dialogue and Argumentation Framework design and background was compiled and reported in D5.1, while in Work Package 6 work has been done on describing existing frameworks for creating the Embodied Conversational Coaches that will form the main Human Computer Interaction element in the Council of Coaches (D6.1). In this same time period, the project has prepared its first living draft of the Data Management Plan (D1.2) and its Innovation Management Guidelines (D1.3).


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What’s this all about?! An example coaching dialogue…

The main objective of this website is to show you, the reader, what we are doing in the Council of Coaches project. To illustrate the objective of the project a little better, we are working on improving our website to be more illustrative and informative. Today we’ve updated our Project page with some example dialogue that hopefully clarifies what we have in mind when we are talking about a “Council of Coaches”.

Consider the example dialogue below between four virtual coaches and a fictive user “Bob”…

Alice: Have you considered trying to quit smoking, Bob?
Ben: Quit smoking… quit drinking, quit doing all the fun things in life! Why don’t you quit whining?
Florence: What a stupid thing to say, Ben! Next thing you’re going to tell us all about your grandfather who smoked all of his live and lived to be a 100 years old!
Ben: Well, for your information… Florence. My grandfather was a heavy smoker and he did turn out to be 94 years old, so there.
Richard: Florence, Ben, cut it out, this isn’t about you or your grandfather, we are talking about Bob, perhaps he has anything to say here?
Bob: (Say Nothing)
Alice: Well, you know that smoking does not guarantee an early death. But Bob here recently got diagnosed with COPD, a condition that is almost always caused by long-term smoking. Although it may not be easy, it is very important to try and quit as a very first step in dealing with this.
Ben: Sure, I guess, you are the expert.
Richard: And it has a positive effect on your taste! Think about all the delicious things we could cook together and how excellent all the flavors will work out.
Bob: I am trying but find it difficult.


What this example portrays, is that even without any active participation of the user (e.g. the point where Bob chooses to say nothing), the discussion can continue with some arguments and background on the topic of smoking cessation. At the end of the example, when the user finally becomes engaged (“I am trying but find it difficult.“), our COPD Coach, Alice, will have to opportunity to continue the dialogue with e.g. advice on how to stop smoking.

I hope this example clarified some our thoughts behind the project. Stay tuned for more updates…

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