Gijs Huisman

Assistant professor at the Delft University of Technology working on embodied interaction and touch.

Co-director of Food and Eating Design Lab

Just recently (as recently as this month) I became the co-director of the TU Delft’s Food and Eating Design Lab which is lead by Rick Schifferstein. I have already had the privilege of meeting some of the lab’s other members and students, and I am excited to start working with them. Topic-wise, my work at the lab will mainly revolve around the role of technology in social interactions at the dining table (of course, viewed from an embodied perspective). This is in line with previous work I did together with Charles Spence and Maurizio Mancini on Digital Commensality and with a larger group of people on a related topic which we called Computational Commensality (if you are interested, we are actually running a Frontiers Research Topic on this). More tasty stuff to follow soon!

New position at TU Delft

A new year, which, given how here in the Netherlands we are smoothly sliding into another month of our current coronavirus lockdown, feels very much like the previous one. Some things have changed, though, as the previous post might have already hinted at. Last November I started as an assistant professor at the Human-Centered Design group’s Perceptual Intelligence lab (Pi-lab for short) at the Delft University of Technology.

In my new position, I will focus on haptic social interactions from an embodied cognition perspective. Recently, I have gotten interested in non-representational accounts of cognition and phenomenological philosophy. From this perspective there is a lot to be said about social interactions, and in particular, those that are mediated by some form of technology. I like to see this as a departure from the ‘traditional’ message-exchange paradigms of mediated communication that we have all gotten so (too?) familiar with through our use of smartphones and social media. My aim is to provide new insights into technology-mediated interactions that do justice to the fact that human beings are embodied beings.

Introduction lecture to Design for Embodied Interaction

Today I delivered a brief (20 min.) online introductory lecture on Design for Embodied Interaction, at TU Delft. In the lecture I apply enactivism (i.e., enactive cognition) to argue why a sponge is not soft, kissing is hard, and why we should design interactive technology more like a dance. The slides with references and reading list (‘must reads’ in bold) can be found here.

Touch video dataset

Touch video dataset can be accessed at:

‘You don’t know what you got ’till it’s gone’, as the lyrics to a popular song would have it. Indeed, this seems to be the case for touch in these times of social isolation, distancing, and staying at home. News media, now more than ever, cover stories about the lack of touch in elderly homes, between friends and family and how, in some cases, technology could provide some relief (the UCL In-Touch project has a nice collection of media stories). Researchers working on touch have had to move their research online in order to adhere to social distancing measures. Research being conducted covers, for example, people’s daily touch experiences (or lack thereof) and impressions of observed touch.

A few years back my colleagues Christian Willemse (previously University of Twente/TNO) and Merel Jung (now Tilburg University) and I recorded a dataset of videos showing a person’s arm being touched in different ways by different objects. Back then we were interested in how impressions of touch would depend on the type of touch and how the touch was applied (e..g, by a social robot). Now, we have made all videos we recorded available online under CC BY-SA 4.0 license:

We hope that the video dataset will be useful to people studying touch.

Paper accepted at Eurohaptics ’20

In the past few months I have been branching out a bit and have been pondering new ways of applying haptic technology. Inspired by the work we do at Digital Society School on green cities (see, for example, urban nature), I started thinking about the application of haptic technology to plants. Now bear with me, plants actually have rather sophisticated ways of detecting mechanical stimuli (i.e., ‘touch’). For one example, think of the Venus Flytrap’s ability to detect and trap prey. What is more, touch affects how plants grow thus we could potentially use haptic technology to modulate plant growth, say, in indoor farming applications.

To stimulate the haptics community to consider plants as an application area for haptic technology, I dove into literature in the biological sciences and wrote a brief review paper that outlines how plants respond to touch and how we could capitalize on this ability. The paper was recently accepted to be published in the proceedings of Eurohaptics ’20 which, hopefully, will be organized in Leiden (NL) later this year.

You can download the preprint of the paper here.

Eating together with technology

Sharing a meal is a special kind of social experience. We pass along salt, sauces, and side dishes. We toast and boast about how spicy we like our food. We talk about the food in front of us and when we do, we alternate talking with chewing, slurping and sipping. And of course, we occasionally check for messages on our phone or take a picture to share on social media.

For better or worse, technology, such as our smartphone, is ever more present at the dining table. However, currently, little is known about the impact of technology on the social dynamics at the dining table.

For this reason we have been working on developing the research field of Digital and Computational Commensality. In other words; eating together with technology. The first two papers sketching the outlines of this field are available now as open-access publications on Frontiers in Psychology and Frontiers in Robotics and AI.

CHI’19 LBW papers

At the Digital Society School I direct research in the Digital to Physical track. This means I work closely with our Digital Transformation Designers (as we like to call them at them) on their various research projects. Last year, we decided to submit a paper for each of the DTD projects of last semester to the CHI’19 Late Breaking Work track. I was absolutely thrilled to learn that all three papers have been accepted! We’ll be sharing our work on sustainable food production at home, digital tools to aid ex-convicts in their resocialization process, and participatory feedback for smart buildings in Glasgow this May!

Brave New World conference in Leiden

Last month I visited the Brave New World conference in Leiden. I shared some of my insights in a medium post for the Digital Society School here.

Senior researcher position at the Digital Society School


I am not sure whether it is a good sign to start every post with a sentence akin to: “sorry, I’ve been busy and this has been a ‘draft’ post for a few weeks now”, but anyway, big personal news to announce: after having completed my PhD and a postdoc position at HMI at the University of Twente I have accepted a new position at the Digital Society School in Amsterdam as senior researcher. I will be heading the research in the Digital to Physical track there.

It is not without a hint of sadness that I will be leaving the amazing place that is HMI. I am incredibly thankful to all the wonderful people I’ve met there and collaborated with throughout the years. I am sure future collaborations are on the cards! At the same time change is exiting and invigorating and I am very happy to join the DSS! What has me especially excited is the DSS’s dedication to researching and designing technology with an explicit focus on its potential benefits for society. This is exemplified by the DSS’s commitment to the UN’s sustainable development goals.

As senior researcher I will be working with a group of post-master trainees as well as students and professionals that make up the track’s projects each semester. I will further develop my line of research on social communication through physical interactions at the DSS while at the same time exploring related topics of research, such as tangible interaction design and interactions in physical spaces.

Musings on the Workshop on Intimate Technology at PHTR’18


One of the things I have been thinking about more and more as 2018 progresses is the importance of making an effort to understand the perspective of others. Not just in general, but specifically where human-technology interactions are concerned. I wrote a guest blog post about related considerations here, but I have also engaged with *gulp* the philosophy department at our university. In fact, we co-organized a workshop on intimate technology at the Philosophy of Human Technology Relations (PHTR) conference.

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