Health problems tackled with sensors

/ Author: Miriam van der Sangen
© Sjoerd van der Hucht Fotografie
The second Sensor Data Challenge event took place on 24-25 January 2019 at HighTechCentreDelft. Altogether almost 30 candidates from various organisations took on four complex assignments in the fields of health and working conditions. They were asked to create smart solutions by using sensors. Statistics Netherlands (CBS), The National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM) and The Hague University of Applied Sciences co-hosted the event.

Improving health

Similar to the first Data Challenge, the key focus in the second Challenge was on measuring people’s health. Rowan Voermans, one of the organisers and specialised in data collection innovation at CBS: ‘One of the assignments was related to physically straining working conditions, for example working with toxic substances or particulate matter. The participants were asked to develop a sensor which could measure the various aspects of physically straining work. In another assignment, the focus was on infectious diseases and their transmissibility. A third assignment was on the question whether sensors could be used to register hand hygiene among care workers. Finally, the topic in the fourth assignment was irritable bowel syndrome, a medical condition which is difficult to detect in patients. If a sensor could register which food the patient takes in, perhaps we would be able to discern some patterns.’

New technology

This 24-hour Data Challenge was co-organised by CBS, Utrecht University (the innovative survey network WIN), the Smart Sensor Systems lectorate at The Hague University of Applied Sciences and the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment (RIVM). Barry Schouten is a senior methodologist at CBS and professor in Methodology and Statistics at Utrecht University. ‘CBS and the university are conducting joint research on smarter, more innovative ways to implement new technology in the collection of data. This could result in improved quality of data and a reduced burden on respondents. We had a successful first Sensor Data Challenge in November 2017. The winning team came up with a prototype to replace the RIVM questionnaire which takes respondents 30 minutes per day to fill out and is related to their eating pattern.’

Focus on health again in the second Sensor Data Challenge


The organisers’ expertise was put to good use during the formulation of the research problems for the Data Challenge. Schouten: ‘RIVM has experts who carry out research on the health of Dutch citizens.’ CBS as well conducts health surveys among the Dutch population. The two institutions are working together to innovate these surveys. The Hague University of Applied Sciences develops portable sensors and measures, for example, exposure to the environment and health effects among respondents.’ John Bolte, lecturer in Smart Sensor Systems at this university, thinks the strength of these partnerships lies mainly in the bundling of specialisms: ‘The development of sensor systems takes place at The Hague University of Applied Sciences, while the formulation of social issues lies with RIVM and monitoring of the accuracy during measurements is the task of CBS and Utrecht University.’

Enthusiastic candidates

Recruitment of candidates for this Data Challenge resulted in eight teams with nearly 30 enthusiastic participants. ‘The participants came not only from CBS and The Hague University of Applied Sciences; a lot of them applied through the government-wide Data Science Programme,’ says Voermans. ‘There were some nice prizes. The winning team received a cheque for 1,000 euros. The team finishing in second place won 500 euros. But even if you didn’t win a prize, there is the reward of more knowledge and experience to be gained.’ CBS and RIVM are now looking at whether the winning ideas can be turned into projects.