News / Blog

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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People Behind the Council of Coaches – Episode 2

In the first episode of the series “People Behind the Council of Coaches”, the University of Twente was presented. In this second episode, we travel to Spain to meet one of the key technology partners of the project, namely Universitat Politècnica de València.


Universitat Politècnica de València

UPVLC is a 45 years old institution adding up over 42.000 people, comprising 10 technical schools, 3 faculties and 2 higher polytechnic schools in three campuses, one in the city of Valencia and two externals. UPVLC-SABIEN (Technologies for Health and Well-Being) is the major research group in e-Inclusion and e-Health of the UPVLC, and one of the most relevant ones at the national level, with a research trajectory of 18 years. UPVLC-SABIEN has an extensive expertise in the application of ICT to the social and healthcare systems, in Ambient Assisted Living technologies (AAL), and Internet of Things (IoT) and also in reengineering and evaluation and validation of social and health care processes and solutions in real environments, not only dealing with the generation of indicators but also user and business centred data, including a long experience in using mobile technologies for health and social purposes.

In Universitat Politècnica de València we met with Vicente Traver Salcedo, Director of the Technologies for Health & Wellbeing (SABIEN) at the ITACA Institute, Gema Ibañez Sanchez and Alvaro Fides Valero and talked with them about UPVLC involvement in the project:

Out of your previous R&D activities, was there something that has influenced your involvement in the Council of Coaches?

Yes, very particularly the project universAAL. This was an EU-funded AAL project that would use smart environments to aid in healthy aging. It consisted on developing an entire platform, so there is a lot of knowledge about architecture, integration and pilots that we can contribute. This was followed by project ReAAL that deployed universAAL in even bigger pilots. In addition, of course, we will assist in integrating Council of Coaches with universAAL itself.


Let the audience know a story behind the existence of universAAL and its uniqueness.

One story, if you can call it that way, that we often get, is hearing from developers and service providers of healthy-aging-related services how hard it is to develop, and how having a platform and tools could help them. That is in part why universAAL came to be, but is also something we must consider when developing Council of Coaches.


How do you see the interaction with end users and particularly for the Council of Coaches.

The focus on direct interaction with the end users is something very interesting, especially having been a developer whose main “client” in previous projects were other developers. All the knowledge about how to interact, dialog and influence end users will be very interesting.


How do you judge the usual outcome of healthy-aging projects and what is there in the Council of Coaches that is happening differently?

The results of projects related to healthy-aging, or at least those we have been involved in show that, despite being helpful or meeting their objectives, they somehow always fail to gain traction in the end. When it comes to making an impact in the market, and therefore in society, it becomes very difficult to succeed. Here’s hoping that Council of Coaches innovative approach can have better luck.


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People Behind the Council of Coaches – Episode 1

In the summer of 2016, researchers from the University of Twente and Roessingh Research and Development teamed up in a brainstorming session to think about the then published call for proposals of the European Commission on “Personalised coaching for well-being and care of people as they age”. After this brainstorming session the idea of a virtual group – a council – of coaches that accompany people on the road to healthy ageing, was born. The researchers found inspiration in the video game series “Civilization”, in which a so-called “High Council” would advise players in a comical way on their next move in a turn-based strategy game. The work started on the Council of Coaches proposal, which led in January 2017 to the project proposal being submitted to the European Commission, and then started the long wait…

Figure: The “Council” from Civilization II, by MicroProse (1996).

For the people, by the people…

The “Council of Coaches” project aims to develop a service that can assist people in leading a healthy lifestyle. For such a user-oriented project to reach its goal, we need to reach out and listen to our audience. But we consider it equally important that our audience can reach out to us. In this series of articles, we would like to let you know the people behind the Council of Coaches. To tell their stories, their motivations, their experiences and what drives them to develop the next level in health and well-being technologies.

The University of Twente

In this first article, we would like to introduce to you the team working at the University of Twente in Enschede, the Netherlands. The University’s Centre for Monitoring and Coaching is the coordinating partner of the project and brings in expertise from the biomedical and Human-Computer Interaction domains.

First up, let’s meet Professor Hermie Hermens, as one of the founding fathers of the multidisciplinary Centre for Monitoring and Coaching and Professor in the university’s Biomedical Signals and Systems group, Hermie is the Coordinator of the Council of Coaches project. Hermie has a long-standing track record in the field of biomedical engineering and Telemedicine and can be characterized by a firm belief and strong passion for creative, innovative ICT as a driver for future healthcare.

“The Council of Coaches project takes a radically new approach to coaching people, utilising the latest developments in sensing, artificial intelligence and user interaction. Although we have set ourselves a very challenging goal, our consortium is ideally suited to tackle this challenge and to deliver solutions that can be implemented in the daily-life of people suffering from chronic conditions.”

The University of Twente contributes to the Human-Computer Interaction aspects of the project through Dirk Heylen and his team at the Human Media Interaction group. Dirk is computational linguist by nature and currently holds the position of Professor in Socially Intelligent Computing. Anything involving humans, virtual agents, robots and how these interact with each other through conversation sparks Dirk’s interest.

“I’ve been working on conversational agents now for almost 20 years in many local and international projects. The Council of Coaches project offers the possibility to investigate more deeply what it means for a person to interact with a virtual coach as we will look into a company of coaches. Besides team members that I have been working with in projects for over more than a decade, it is a pleasure to work with new highly qualified groups on topics such as argumentation and dialogue. I also very much enjoy the variety of scholarly perspectives on the problem, including the time we will spend on the reflection about responsible innovations.”

Working on both the biomedical engineering and human computer interaction sides, the University of Twente has a broad team of experts involved in the project. Oresti Baños, Assistant Professor of Creative Technology, defines himself as being a

“strong advocate of the role of science in society and truly passionate about the use of technology for social good”

When asked about his involvement into Council of Coaches, he underlines: “through this project, we will be able to improve our broad understanding of human behaviour and give people more tailored, personalized, and effective health interventions.”


Kostas Konsolakis – a PhD candidate at the Biomedical Signals and Systems group of the University of Twente, working closely together with Oresti – believes in the good that technology can do for society. He says that from when he started his Master in Biomedical Engineering, his main goal has been to become an expert in the area of wearable (health) technology and personalised health solutions with coaching systems.

“Just imagine the benefits from receiving coaching services through a portable device…”

Kostas adds, that our quality of life has the potential to improve immensely thanks to a coaching service like the Council of Coaches.

For those less familiar with terms like “wearable health technology”, think of the fancy bracelets that measure your steps, monitor your sleep patterns, and that connect to your smartphone to see if you did enough exercise for the day. That is it. Expand the data that you monitor (heart rate and stress for example) use it for medical reasons and to conduct a healthy life, and you have a wearable medical piece of technology. Once you connect somehow this piece of technology to a group of experts giving you hints to have a healthy lifestyle, you have a coaching system.

Another important focal point of the project is that ageing should not be conceived as something negative. Gerwin Huizing, PhD candidate of the Human Media Interaction group, who has a geriatric specialist in his family, has an entire life-time of experiences in contact with older adults. He has seen what it is living as a healthy active older adult, and wishes to see this more often. He has acquired a peculiar point of view: that of the older adults, and feels he has a better understanding of their lives, desires and needs. Gerwin is one of those many people who give their support to those in need through voluntary work. In particular, he helped older adults and people with symptoms of dementia, and realised how often there is lack of caregivers, volunteers and support for these people. So, what he wants now, is to use his knowledge to develop a technological product that fits the needs and points of view of the older adults, and that provides them with a form of social interaction and the possibility to stay active and healthy. This possibility Gerwin found in working on the Council of Coaches project.

Randy Klaassen, assistant professor at the Human Media Interaction research group (involved in studies related to virtual humans, virtual coaching, dialogues, and user centred design), says it straight: ageing should not be seen per se as a negative step in life. Furthermore, technology could help high tech people not lose human touch, and thus,


“face-to-face and human-to-human interaction is important to integrate into the healthcare solutions of the future”

Finally, Jorien van Loon. She has been working at the University of Twente as a project manager for EU projects for the last 8 years. As a project manager she supports the project coordinator in his day to day activities. For Council of Coaches this means, establishing procedures for Risk identification and Quality Management, setting up a Data Management Plan, and anything else that is necessary to run smooth project. Besides the management tasks she is appointed as the work package leader for WP9: Ethics. With her background in Computer Science, Philosophy of Technology, and additional experience in the ethical committee of the EEMCS faculty, she is very familiar with establishing ethical treatment of patients and ensuring their privacy will be kept within the project.

“I have great confidence in the Council of Coaches project. It is one of the few projects where technical specifications go hand in hand not only with end user requirements, but with responsible research and ethical considerations as well. The consortium is well rounded to tackle these challenges and I am looking forward to working together with everyone to come up with something truly innovating.

To conclude, the large and diverse team at the University of Twente is excited to bring the Council of Coaches to life! Follow the journey with us, and get to know the rest of the people behind the project in the coming posts.

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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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Platform Webinar

In Council of Coaches we are trying to be efficient in our software development and not re-invent the architectural wheel again. At this early stage of the project, we have been exploring two major software frameworks that see a lot of interest and use in the eHealth domain: FiWARE and universAAL. Below, you can watch the FIWARE and universaal Platform Webinar, hosted and presented by Álvaro Fides Valero of the Polytechnic University of Valencia.

Check back here for more video comment, or subscribe to our YouTube Channel.

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