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Innovative projects put people at the centre

“Playful work”, combating forced marriage or education for the 60+ generation: the 18 applications approved in the 2nd project call in the innovation program of the Digitalization Initiative of the Zurich Higher Education Institutions (DIZH) use technologies and develop innovative applications to address human needs and values. With funding of CHF 4 million from the special credit, which is co-financed equally by the DIZH universities in a “matching funds” principle, DIZH enables exchanges between different perspectives and supports close collaboration between research and practice.

The projects deal with, among others, the museum of the future, podcast design, digital co-creation or a trading zone between ethnology and computer science. Technologies are used specifically to enable human-centred innovation. The interdisciplinary teams develop a hearing test in a virtual 3D audio environment or a training toolkit to assess emotional abuse in children. Spatial thinking is trained in a game in a playful way. Platform technology is used for crisis management in administration or as a knowledge archive in cinematography. In cooperation with practitioners, the researchers are using artificial intelligence to relieve clinical staff in intensive care units, to archive handwriting and for stroke management. For the projects with a duration of 1 to 3 years, up to CHF 300,000 in funding from the DIZH special credit can be applied for. The funding was awarded in a competitive procedure. The work will start immediately until September at the latest.

“More applications from the social, artistic, pedagogical and humanities fields were submitted for the 2nd Project Call. Cross-disciplinary and cross-university collaboration has become established, and in dialogue with different practice partners, novel questions have emerged whose implementation we are eagerly following,” says Dirk Wilhelm, chair of the DIZH Innovation Panel and director of the ZHAW School of Engineering.

The following three projects illustrate the thematic diversity:

The impact of Deepfakes in virtual reality scenarios for mental health therapy
Digital innovations have been used as an attempt to amplify the effect of existing therapy treatments, but have a few practical limitations. A team of researchers from the ZHdK (Interaction Design) and the Institute of Psychology of the UZH are investigating to what extent the combination of deepfakes and virtual reality enable novel therapies. Through the combination of Deepfakes and virtual reality, novel rescripting possibilities might be enabled, where the patients face themselves in situations easily co-developed together with the therapists. The project not only contributes to the ongoing digital transformation in the context of mental health, but takes also critical stance regarding the development and potential harms of digital technologies at an individual and societal level.

Edugame4Change. A digitally augmented simulation game for digital transformation in schools
Schools face numerous challenges in the digital transformation. These concern e.g. infrastructures, devices, teaching content and tools used, as well as the development of staff at competence and attitude level. With the simulation game Edugame4Change, researchers from the PHZH (Centre for Media Education and Computer Science / Centre for Education and Digital Transformation) and ZHdK (Game Design) want to support schools in shaping this change at different levels. The cooperation with the education authority of the city of Zurich and the hep publishing house will create a sustainable impact in the school field.

Design your city: A virtual reality experience for sustainable urban spaces
In the project, researchers from the ZHAW (School of Engineering, Social Work, Life Sciences and Facility Management) and the ZHdK (Knowledge Visualization) are creating and investigating an innovative tool for participatory design processes. This offers residents and decision-makers the opportunity to virtually experience and participate in the design of a planned redesign of a square, a traffic situation or existing parking spaces during the conception phase – i.e. before their implementation. For example, traffic-calming measures such as the reduction of street noise, new space conditions through low-car or car-free streets, e.g. for bicycle and pedestrian traffic, or new green spaces can be experienced immersively via the sense of sight and hearing.
The project is accompanied in its development by three different groups of practical partners. On the one hand, the Office of Urban Development is involved, on the other hand, NGOs such as UmverkehR and Fussverkehr Schweiz are involved and lastly, Verkehrsbetriebe Zürich as a mobility provider. Gestalte Zürich supports the Zurich city administration in planning sustainable urban spaces and promotes a climate-friendly change in transport. In this way, the project makes an important contribution to the climate goal of the city and canton of Zurich of net zero CO2 emissions by 2040.

Figure: Exemplary illustration of the conversion of street sections to more space for pedestrians and greening.