New Technologies for Social Inclusion

The Connected Community’s main objective is to train future professionals, such as students in therapy and special education, in the use of new technologies for people with special needs. These technologies include haptic, audio, and visual interfaces, robotics, virtual reality (VR), connected tools, and software. The CC focuses on special needs education and aims to establish a joint master's program in the long run. 

The CC has a strong interdisciplinary character and will actively collaborate with several stakeholders in society, such as schools, municipal authorities, ministries, and organizations dedicated to supporting people with physical limitations. One of the important aims of our CC will be to democratise access to skills and know-how in order to promote equality for people of different genders, ages, cultural backgrounds and physical abilities, with particular focus on the latter. 

Connected Community Activities
Planned Education Activities
  • Students of different levels (BA, MA, PhD) will be involved in research activities, and encouraged to present their research findings, to share their work, and receive feedback.   
  • Research Methodology Trainings will be offered by postdocs and PhDs.  
  • Peer discussions, group projects, and research clubs will encourage collaboration among students and equip them with the necessary skills to conduct independent research.  
  • The exchange of best practices in teaching and curriculum development is encouraged. 
  • A MOOC Course on “New Technologies for Social inclusion” will be implemented until mid of 2024. 
  • Annual summer schools and several workshops per year will support the long-term aim: A joint Degree M.Sc. Program on “New Technologies for Social inclusion” (until the end of 2026). 
Planned Research Activities
  • The CC contributes to the existing body of knowledge in the field by generating new findings. 
  • Co-authored articles by CC members will be published. 
  • Public lectures and exhibitions will be offered. 
  • A conference is planned, which is open for all researchers in the field and students to present their work. 
  • New educational materials and teaching methods will be developed. 
  • Partnerships/collaborations between researchers from multiple universities across the Connected Community will be fostered. 
  • The Connected Community PIs will apply for research and teaching grants (including student mobility) for increased interdisciplinary research and cross-pollination of ideas. 

How to get involved?

Lead: Prof. Ercan Altinsoy (  

Local Facilitator: Kerstin Le Merdy (  


Connected Community Members
Lead:   Prof. Ercan Altinsoy (TUD) |  Email :  

Ercan Altinsoy
Ercan Altinsoy - Ercan Altinsoy

Ercan Altinsoy received a graduate degree in mechanical engineering from the Technical University of Istanbul, Istanbul, Turkey, and a Ph.D. degree in electrical engineering from Ruhr-University Bochum, Bochum, Germany, in 2005. After receiving his Ph.D. degree, he worked with HEAD Acoustics as a Consulting Engineer. Since 2006, he has been with TU Dresden, Dresden, Germany, where he is currently a Professor in acoustic and haptic engineering. His research interests include perception-based engineering, vibroacoustics, vehicle acoustics, virtual acoustics, virtual reality, haptic interfaces, haptic perception, product sound, and vibration desig

Partner: Prof. Sophie Sakka (CY) | Email:  

Sophie Sakka
Sophie Sakka - Sophie Sakka

Sophie Sakka is a full professor at the National Superior Institute for Inclusive Education (INSEI, France) since 2023. Her research profile is multidisciplinary, related to cybernetics between human and robotic systems, particularly applied to social identity and learning capacity. She had initial training in Solid Mechanics (UPMC, 1997), specialized in robotics (Ph.D., UPCM, 2002), specialized in humanoid robotics (post-doctorate, AIST-Tsukuba, Japan, 2003-05), specialized in biomechanics human (Associate Professor, University of Poitiers, 2005-16). She set up the real-time imitation of human movements by a humanoid robot during a guest researcher stay at IIT-Genova (Italy, 2006-07), and continued this work at IRCCyN (associate researcher, 2010 -16) and Centrale Nantes (Associate Professor, 2016-22). In 2014, she founded the non-for-profit organization "Robots!". One of its objectives was to carry out experiments in social robotics in society, to finance them, to perpetuate them, and above all to involve the general public in the reflection around the social change associated with the robotization of society. For her commitment and high-impact results with autistic and Alzheimer's audiences, she was elevated to the rank of Knight of the National Order of Merit in 2016. Her recent projects focus on the cognitive applications of social robotics applied to autism spectrum disorders and active learning processes of individuals. 

Partner: Prof. Heidi Ottevaere (VUB) | Email:  

Heidi Ottevaere
Heidi Ottevaere - Heidi Ottevaere

Heidi Ottevaere is since 2009 a professor at the Faculty of Engineering of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB). At present, she chairs the Applied Physics and Photonics Department which is responsible for the Photonics Education Curriculum at VUB. She is responsible for the Instrumentation and Metrology platform at the Photonics Innovation Center and for the research unit ‘biophotonics’ of the Brussels Photonics Team B-PHOT. Her current research interests include biophotonics, interferometry, holography, and imaging. At Faculty level, she chairs the Committee for International Relations. 

Partner Prof. Muriel Epstein (CY) | Email: 

Muriel Epstein
Muriel Epstein - Muriel Epstein

Muriel Epstein, an associate professor at CY Cergy Paris Université, specializes in digital environments and professional development for teachers. Her journey started as a math teacher, later delving into sociology to study student dropouts. Following her research, she founded an association promoting active learning to prevent dropouts, culminating in a successful history MOOC created by 200 dropout students.  

Her current focus centers on inclusive education, leveraging digital transformations to train teachers and prevent dropouts. Muriel’s research endeavors aim to explore how digital transformations can foster inclusive teaching practices and support educators in diverse learning environments. She is particularly passionate about utilizing technology to improve teaching methods and enhance educational opportunities for marginalized students.  

Alongside her academic pursuits, Muriel engages with EUTOPIA, connecting with a diverse network and fostering 

Partner Prof. Kerstin Person (GU) | Email:

Kerstin Person
Kerstin Person


Prof. Kerstin Persson Waye earned a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Health in 1982 and has been with Gothenburg University's medical faculty since 1985. She completed a PhD in Environmental Medicine, focusing on community low-frequency noise effects. Her research extended to low-frequency noise impacts on work performance and sleep, and later pioneering wind turbine noise studies. She held an associate professorship at Aalborg University from 2002 to 2005, and a visiting professorship within hearing research, at the University of Örebro during 2019-2020. 

Her primary research investigates human reactions and long term health impacts to sounds, emphazising perceptual qualities. Progressing from a lectorate to a professorship in Environmental Medicine, particularly in noise research, she leads a cross-disciplinary team at the Sound and Health research unit. Their studies explore young children’s perception and reactions to noise and the effect on wellbeing, mental health and hearing. Research also focus on hearing disorders in communication-intensive workplaces, mechanisms for noise and vibration induced sleep disturbance and the long term impact of environmental noise on sleep and health. The prime aim is to comprehend sound exposure mechanisms and health outcomes. 

Prof. Persson Waye continues her work at Gothenburg University, contributing internationally as a member of the WHO's General Guideline Group for noise criteria and on the expert panel of the Canadian Council of Academies for wind turbine and health reports. She has been a member of the board of International Commission for Acoustics (ICA), chair of ICBEN team 3, and currently a member of the executive committe at ICBEN. Presently she is Vice president within I-INCE for Europe and Africa, 2022-2025. 

Partner: Jolan Kegelaers (VUB) |  Email:  

Jolan Kegelaers
Jolan Kegelaers - Jolan Kegelaers

Jolan Kegelaers is lecturer in health psychology at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences of the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. In a broad sense, his research focusses on the promotion of mental health, with a specific interest in sports and other performance domains. He completed his PhD on the development of psychological resilience in talented and elite athletes. Currently he is involved in multiple research projects aimed at developing and evaluating novel interventions, including through the use of Virtual Reality (VR), to promote mental health and well-being across different populations. He is currently also working as the performance psychologist for the Flemish Judo federation and is a member of the ethics board of the International Ice Hockey Federation.

Partner Dr. Chiao-I Tseng (GU) | Email: 

Chiao-I Tseng
Chiao-I Tseng - Chiao-I Tseng

Chiao-I Tseng, a Senior Lecturer at the University of Gothenburg, Sweden. She specializes in empirical multimodal communication research. Her work delves into narrative strategies and impact across various media such as film, graphic narratives, news videos and interactive narratives. 

She holds a PhD in Applied Linguistics from the University of Bremen (2010), alongside degrees from universities in the UK and Taiwan. Her expertise lies in developing discourse methods for analyzing multimodal cohesion, narrative impact, and temporal-spatial aspects. 

 Chiao-I’s research is highly interdisciplinary. Her current collaborative research includes a project on children's understanding of space and time in audiovisula narratives, a cross-faculty project on misinformation detection in public and online news videos and an EUTOPIA collaboration on documentary film on immigrants in virtual reality.   


Partner Dr. Martijn Van Heel (VUB) | Email address: 

Martjin Van Heel
Martjin Van Heel - Martjin van Heel


Martijn Van Heel is an assistant professor in developmental and educational psychology at the Faculty of Psychology and Educational Sciences at the Vrije Universiteit Brussel. His research focuses on the impact of digital technology on the (sub)optimal development of children. More specifically, there are research lines on how online social interaction can improve youngster’s mental health or play a role in their identity development. Furthermore, there is also ongoing research on the use of VR technology as intervention for compulsive behavior in a clinical population. This research contributes to the connected community by ‘translating’ psychological processes to the context of new technologies. 


Partner: Prof. Dr. Bram Vanderborght (VUB) | Email Address: 

Partner : Prof. Dr. Nikos Deligiannis (VUB) | Email: 


Dr. Nikos Deligiannis, an Associate Professor at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB) and a senior scientist at imec in Belgium, is an accomplished researcher in interpretable machine learning, explainable AI, and federated AI. With a Ph.D. in engineering sciences from VUB, he has conducted pioneering research in signal processing and computer vision. Nikos has received prestigious awards, including the Honorable Mention Award at the 2023 ICCVW and Best Paper Awards at the 2019 IEEE International Conference on Image Processing and the 2019 EAI International Conference on Sensor Systems and Software (S-CUBE’19). He is also recognized for his editorial contributions as an Associate Editor for the IEEE Transactions on Image.

Partner: Dr. Irene Valori (TUD) | Email:

Irene Valori
Irene Valori - IreneValori

Irene Valori completed her masters’ and doctoral studies in Developmental and Clinical Psychology at the University of Padova, Italy. She delved into the potential of VR to promote child development and support neurodiversity such as Autism and ADHD. She currently works at the Chair of Acoustic and Haptic Engineering and the Centre for Tactile Internet with human-in-the-loop (CeTI) at the Technische Univeristät Dresden. She investigates the power of affective touch in promoting social connection and trust in technology-mediated human-to-human exchanges or human-machine interactions. Her research aims to explore individual differences in touch preferences and behaviours, with a focus on developmental trajectories, culture, and gender.

Partner: Prof. Shu-Chen Li (TUD) | Email Address: 

Partner: Jun. Prof. Merle Fairhurst (TUD) | Email Address: 

Merle Fairhurst
Merle Fairhurst - Merle Fairhurst
Educated on both sides of the Atlantic, Merle Fairhurst holds a diploma in music (Juilliard School) and a doctorate in neuroscience (University of Oxford). Her post-doctoral training both in Germany (Max Planck Institute for Human Cognition and Brain Sciences) and the United Kingdom (University of London) has helped her build both a rich theoretical framework of the multisensory bases of social cognition working with psychologists and philosophers but also extensive expertise in combining multiple levels of empirical observation including neuroimaging (FMRI, FNIRS), physiological markers of autonomic arousal and subjective reports. She is proud to now work within the CeTI excellence cluster in Dresden where as the Junior Professor for Social Affective Touch her team compares the subjective experience and neurophysiological markers of different digital models of social touch taking advantage of cutting edge affective haptics and virtual reality. With almost 20 years of experience and most recently after 5 years in Munich as an assistant professor (LMU) and professor for Biological Psychology (Universität der Bundeswehr München), Merle has also developed a strong teaching profile with courses for both philosophers and cognitive scientists with wide ranging topics including "Music and the mind" to "Virtual reality as an invaluable tool for psychological research on social cognition

Partner: Jun. Prof. Giang Nguyen (TUD) | Email Address: 

Giang Nguyen
Giang Nguyen - Giang Nguyen
Giang T. Nguyen is currently an Assistant Professor, heading the Haptic Communication Systems research group at the Faculty of Electrical and Computer Engineering, TU Dresden, Germany. He is a principal investigator at Cluster of Excellence for Tactile Internet with Human-in-the-Loop (CeTI) and 6G-life, one of the four hubs in Germany, researching the 6th generation of mobile communication systems. Previously, he was a co-founder and the head of networking and edge computing at the robotics company Wandelbots, which he co-founded in November 2017. Giang Nguyen received a Ph.D. in Computer Science from TU Dresden in 2016. His research interests include network softwarization, immersive communication, and networked robotics. The goal is to develop networked cyber-physical systems with flexibility, resilience, and low latency to facilitate haptic communication.