I am an assistant professor (UD) at the User-Centric Data Science group at the Computer Science department of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (VU). I am also a senior research fellow at Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision. In my research, I combine (Semantic) Web technologies with Human-Computer Interaction, Knowledge Representation and Information Extraction to tackle research challenges in various domains. These include Cultural Heritage, Digital Humanities and ICT for Development (ICT4D). More information on these projects can be found on this site or through my CV .

André Baart and Kasadaka win IXA High Potential Award

Andre and his prizeOn 19 June, André Baart was awarded the High Potential Award at the Amsterdam Science & Innovation en Impact Awards for his and W4RA‘s work on the Kasadaka platform.

Kasadaka (“talking box”) is an ICT for Development (ICT4D) platform to develop voice-based technologies for those who are not connected to the Internet, cannot not read and write, and speak underresourced languages.

As part of a longer-term project, the Kasadaka Voice platform and software development kit (VSDK), has been developed by André Baart as part of his BSc and MSc research at VU. In that context it has been extensively tested in the field, for example by Adama Tessougué, journalist and founder of radio Sikidolo in Konobougou, a small village in rural Mali. It was also evaluated in the context of the ICT4D course at VU, by 46 master students from Computer Science, Information Science and Artificial Intelligence. The Kasadaka is now in Sarawak Malaysia, where it will be soon deployed in a Kampong, by Dr. Cheah Waishiang, ICT4D researcher at the University of Malasia Sarawak (UNIMAS), and students from VU and UNIMAS.

André is currently pursuing his PhD in ICT4D at Universiteit van Amsterdam and still member of the W4RA team.

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Presenting the CARPA project

The ICT4D project CARPA, funded by NWO-WOTRO had its first stakeholder workshop today at the Amsterdam Business School of UvA. From our project proposal: The context for CARPA (Crowdsourcing App for Responsible Production in Africa) lies in sustainable and responsible business. Firms are under increasing pressure to ensure sustainable, responsible production in their supply chains.. Lack of transparency about labour abuses and environmental damages has led some firms to cease purchases from the region

.With an interdisciplinary partnership of local NGOs and universities in DRC, Mali, and South Africa, this project aims to generate new evidence-based knowledge to improve transparency about business impacts on responsible production.

Co-creating a smartphone application, we will use crowdsourcing methods to obtain reports of negative social and environmental business impacts in these regions, and follow them over time to understand access to justice and whether and how remediation of such impacts occurs. Data integration and visualization methods will identify patterns in order to provide context and clarity about business impacts on sustainability over time. A website will be developed to provide ongoing public access to this data, including a mapping function pinpointing impact locations.

The project will be led by Michelle Westermann-Behaylo from UvA, with the research work on the ground being executed by UvA’s Francois Lenfant and Andre Baart. Marcel Worring and myself are involved in supervisory roles.

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A look back at UCDS at ICT.Open2018

Two weeks ago, ICT.Open2018 was held in Amersfoort. This event brings together Computer Science researchers from all over the Netherlands and our research group was present with many posters and presentations.

We even won a prize! (Well, a 2nd place prize, but awesome nonetheless). Xander Wilcke presented work on using Knowledge Graphs for Machine Learning. He was awarded the runner-up prize for best poster presentation at ICTOpen2018. Congrats!

 

Ronald Siebes presented work in the ArchiMediaL project on reconstructing 4D street views from historical images.

Oana Inel presented her work on Named Entity Recognition and Gold Standard critiquing. She also demonstrated the Clariah MediaSuite.

Anca Dumitrache talked about using crowdsourcing as part of the Machine Learning life cycle.

Tobias Kuhn talked about Reliable Granular References to Changing Linked Data, which was previously published at ISWC2017.

Cristina Bucur introduced  Linkflows: enabling a web of linked semantic publishing workflows

I talked myself a bit about current work in the ABC-Kb Network Institute project

All in all, this was quite a nice edition of the yearly event for our group. See you next year in Amersfoort!

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An Augmented Reality App to Annotate Art

[This post is based on the Bachelor project by Jurjen Braam and reuses content from his thesis]

The value of Augmented Reality applications has been shown for a number of different tasks. Most of these show that AR applications add to the immersiveness of an experience. For his Bachelor Project, VU student Jurjen Braam researched to what extent AR technology makes sense for the task of annotating artworks.

To this end, Jurjen built a mobile application which allows experts or laypeople to add textual annotations to artworks in three different modes. One mode doesnt show the artwork, but allows for textual input, the 2nd mode shows the work in an image and allows for localised annotations. The last mode is the AR mode, which projects the artwork in the physical space, using the device camera and screen.

Three modes of the Application (Text, 2D, AR)

Jurjen evaluated the three modes through a small user study, which showed that immersion and enjoyment was highest in the AR mode but that this mode was least efficient. Also, participants indicated that for annotation tasks, larger screens would be preferable.

User evaluation in action

This research was a unique endeavour combining a proven technology (AR) and well-known task (Annotation) which identified interesting possibilities for follow-up research.

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W4RA work featured in BBC article

Screenshot of the bBC article
Screenshot of the bBC article “‘Siri, will talking ever top typing?’ By Padraig Belton”

A BBC web article “‘Siri, will talking ever top typing?’ By Padraig Belton features our W4RA work done on voice interfaces for farmer information in Northern Ghana.

Francis Dittoh talks about the need for specific information for farmers in their own language and discusses ongoing research into our Kasadaka system. Anna Bon talks more about the web of voices. Very nice to see our work recognized by international media!

Read more at http://www.bbc.com/news/business-43409952

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Field trip to Ghana, feb 2018

As part of the ongoing W4RA efforts, the VU ICT4D team visited West-Africa once more. This time, we visited Mali, Burkina Faso and Ghana. I personally went to Ghana to talk to external PhD candidate Francis Dittoh and his colleagues at the University of Development Studies (UDS) and the SARI institute in Tamale, in Northern Ghana. Francis and myself talking to a shea-butter guideAfter first flying to Accra, I first was able to have a short meeting with my good friend Nana Baah Gyan, who is now an ICT for Development expert in that city. I then flew to Tamale,. where we met up with Francis to talk about his PhD work on information systems for rural farmers.

After colleagues Anna Bon and Hans Akkermans arrived from Burkina Faso, we met with UDS vice-chancellor as well as the Dean of the Faculty of Engineering to  discuss the ongoing collaboration of W4RA and VU with Prof Saa Dittoh, and Francis. We hope to formalize these collaborations in a Memorandum of Understanding between the two universities. We also discuss the ambition of UDS to set up a curriculum in software engineering as part of the undergraduate programs. Such a programme would include a yearly community service courses, where students go into the field. This is very interesting for us as it aligns well with the goals of the ICT4D course at VU. The programmes also include a French language course to allow for smoother cooperation with other Sahel countries (specifically Burkina Faso).The UDS mission statement

We also visited the Savanna Agriculture Research Institute (CSIR-SARI). The situation is comparable to that in Burkina. SARI governs the use of hybrid seeds, which cannot be reused year by year but result in a higher yield. SARI is interested in educating farmers on how to handle these seeds (fertilization, planting etc). There are three classes of seeds: 1) breeder seeds – grown at research institutes, 2) foundation seeds and 3) certified seeds – produced by ~1000 farmers monitored by ~10 seed companies, and certified by an external agency.SARI research institute

Potentially interesting for us is their connection to rural farmers. SARI now mostly does this through extension workers from the ministry of Agriculture. However, because of budget cuts, these are now reduced to roughly 1 extension worker to 2,500 farmers. Therefore, SARI is open to the idea of commucating with farmers directly, for example through a voice-based system. An interesting opportunity could be two-track strategy with a smartphone app for extension workers to allow them to do their work better and a companion voice app for farmers. SARI is very much interested in developing applications in a co-creation process. This would match the research proposal that Francis has submitted to SARI and UDS.

A personal highlight was the 10hr road trip that Francis offered me to join instead of taking a flight back to Accra. Ghana is a beautiful country that changes before your eyes on such a trip. My sincere hope is that the proposed collaborations will lead to many more visits to this great country. 

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A Voice Service Development Kit for the Kasadaka platform

[This post is written by André Baart and describes his MSc thesis]

While the internet usage in the developing world is still low, the adoption of simple mobile phones is widespread. A way to offer the advantages of the internet to these populations is voice-based information systems. The KasaDaka voice-services platform is aimed at providing voice-services in the context of ICT for Development (ICT4D). The platform is based on a Raspberry Pi and a GSM modem, which enables affordable voice-service hosting, using the locally available GSM network. The platform takes into account the special requirements of the ICT4D context, such as limited internet connectivity and low literacy rates.

This research focuses on lowering the barrier to entry of voice-service development, by reducing the skill set needed to do so. A Voice Service Development Kit (VSDK) is developed that allows the development of voice-services by deploying and customizing provided building-blocks. These building blocks each represent a type of interaction that is often found in voice-services. (for example a menu, user voice input or the playback of a message) The researcher argues that the simplification of voice-service development is an essential step towards sustainable voice-services in the ICT4D context; As this increases the potential number of local voice-service developers, hremoving the dependency on foreign (and thus expensive) developers and engineers. This simplification should ideally be achieved by providing a graphical interface to voice-service development.

The VSDK was evaluated during the ICT4D course at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, where students built applications for various ICT4D use-cases using the VSDK. Afterwards a survey was conducted, which provided insight on the students’ experiences with voice-service development and the VSDK. From the results of the evaluation is concluded that the building-block approach to voice-service development used in the VSDK, is successful for the development of simple voice-services. It allows newcomers to (voice-service) development, to quickly develop (simple) voice-services from a graphical interface, without requiring programming experience.

The VSDK combined with the existing KasaDaka platform provides a good solution to the hosting and development of voice-services in the ICT4D context.

More details can be found in the complete thesis.A slidedeck is included below. You can find the VSDK code on Andre’s Github: http://github.com/abaart/KasaDaka-VSDK

 

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Machine-to-machine communication in rural conditions: Realizing KasadakaNet

[This post describes research by Fahad Ali and is based on his Msc. thesis]

Contextual constraints (lack of infrastructure, low-literacy etc.) play an important role in ICT for Development (ICT4D) projects. The Kasadaka project offers a technological platform for knowledge sharing applications in rural areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. However, lack of stable internet connections restrict exchange of data between distributed Kasadaka instances, which leads us to research alternative ways of machine-to-machine (m2m) communication.

Example of a KasadakaNet situation, with a wifi-donkey mounted on a bus, visiting a city and two remote villages, creating a so-called sneakernet

Fahad Ali’s research focuses on mobile elements and using wifi sneakernets for this m2m to enable information sharing between geographically distributed devices. He developed a Raspberry Pi-based device called the Wifi-donkey that can be mounted on a vehicle and facilitates information exchange with nearby devices, using the built-in wifi card of the rPi 3.The solution is based on Piratebox offline file-sharing and communications system built with free software and uses off-the-shelf Linux software components and configuration settings to allow it to discover and connect to nearby Kasadaka devices based using Wifi technologies.

Experimental setup: the wifi-donkey taped to an Amsterdam balcony to test range and bandwith.

We evaluated the solution by simulating a low resource setting and testing it by performing so-called “pass-bys” in an Amsterdam residential area. In these cases, SPARQL queries are exchanged between host and client devices and we measure amount of RDF triples transferred. This setup matches earlier case requirements as described in Onno Valkering’s work.Results show that the system works fairly reliably in the simulated setting. The machine-to-machine communication method can be used in various ICT4D projects that require some sort of data sharing functionality.

You can find out more about Fahad’s work through the following resources:

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Dancing and Semantics

This post describes the MSc theses of Ana-Liza Tjon-a-Pauw and Josien Jansen. 

As a semantic web researcher, it is hard to sometimes not see ontologies and triples in aspects of my private life. In this case, through my contacts with dancers and choreographers, I have since a long time been interested in exploring knowledge representation for dance. After a few failed attempts to get a research project funded, I decided to let enthusiastic MSc. students have a go to continue with this exploration. This year, two Information Sciences students, Josien Jansen and Ana-Liza Tjon-a-Pauw, were willing to take up this challenge, with great success. With their background as dancers they did not only have the necessary background knowledge at but also access to dancers who could act as study and test subjects.

The questions of the two projects was therefore: 1) How can we model and represent dance in a sensible manner so that computers can make sense of choreographs and 2) How can we communicate those choreographies to the dancers?

Screenshot of the mobile choreography assistant prototype

Josien’s thesis addressed this first question. Investigating to what extent choreographers can be supported by semi-automatic analysis of choreographies through the generation of new creative choreography elements. She conducted an online questionnaire among 54 choreographers. The results show that a significant subgroup is willing to use an automatic choreography assistant in their creative process. She further identified requirements for such an assistant, including the semantic levels at which should operate and communicate with the end-users. The requirements are used for a design of a choreography assistant “Dancepiration”, which we implemented as a mobile application. The tool allows choreographers to enter (parts of) a choreography and uses multiple strategies for generating creative variations in three dance styles. Josien  evaluated the tool in a user study where we test a) random variations and b) variations based on semantic distance in a dance ontology. The results show that this latter variant is better received by participants. We furthermore identify many differences between the varying dance styles to what extent the assistant supports creativity.

Four participants during the 2nd user experiment. From left to right this shows variations presented through textual, 2D animation, 3D animation, and auditory instructions.

In her thesis, Ana-Liza dove deeper into the human-computer interaction side of the story. Where Josien had classical ballet and modern dance as background and focus, Ana-Liza looked at Dancehall and Hip-Hop dance styles. For her project, Ana-Liza developed four prototypes that could communicate pieces of computer-generated choreography to dancers through Textual Descriptions, 2-D Animations, 3-D Animations, and Audio Descriptions. Each of these presentation methods has its own advantages and disadvantages, so Ana-Liza made an extensive user survey with seven domain experts (dancers). Despite the relatively small group of users, there was a clear preference for the 3-D animations. Based on the results, Ana-Liza also designed an interactive choreography assistant (IDCAT).

The combined theses formed the basis of a scientific article on dance representation and communication that was accepted for publication in the renowned ACE entertainment conference, co-authored by us and co-supervisor Frank Nack.

You can find more information here:

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