Northernlands 2 - VR is awesome, especially now


Can VR resolve ages-old conflict? Can it unite people in neutral environments? Tim says yes and he has some compelling stories to share


This transcript comes from the captions associated with the video above. It is "as spoken".

I will take you back to 1914.

First World War was going on strong. It's December.

It's snowing, it's very, very cold

The Allied forces and their rivals are in their trenches

and they're fighting each other. And it's December.

And the phone rings; it's the General.

And the General says...

"Guys its time for Christmas truce. We're going on a short holiday"

"So do whatever you like. We're going home and you know, have fun."

You think that's crazy, right?

But this is a true story.

If you look it up, you can just find it on Wikipedia.

Search for Christmas truce 1914 and you will see what happens.

This is what happened.

The Allied forces and their rivaling companions. Basically they came

out of their trenches.

And they started partying. They started eating with each other

exchanging letters they got and they started some

games of footballing. You see the images online as well

of the people that would normally shooting at each

other. They came out of the trenches and starting, you

know, having fun together.

This story really struck me when I heard it a couple years ago.

And not much later I found myself filming a documentary

basically based on this idea.

The idea is:

What happens if you take people from out of the conflict and you

bring them together and they basically have no reference or

framework of the conflict? What would happen if you put

them together and they just simply chat about, you know the things

that they have on their minds, the things that they do with their

children, their hobbies, etc. So it was there in Uganda and we

were bringing together two rivaling soldiers; two rivaling

tribe leaders basically.

And what we did is - separate from each other - we made a sort of

family portrait in virtual reality, so we were there.

We had professional filming team and we interviewed each of

the warriors. And what we did is we show that to each other. So

they saw what the other person recorded for them.

And what happened? That was the most bizarre thing that I've

ever encountered. They saw that they were basically

similar and they really started showing empathy for each other.

And you can look at this documentary that we shot. It's a

20 minute documentary. You can look at it online. It's at

And the result was a virtual reality documentary of

20 minutes that was sent all across the world on many film

festivals. People were able to

watch it. And the reason why I'm telling you this story about the

soldiers that came out of the trench in 1914, and a project

that I did in North Uganda is because what I saw is that many

times because of a certain distance between each other.

There is no place to create empathy

and understanding. And if you are able

for a second for a brief moment, to forget that distance,

you can start building a new friendship. You can start

building on new things And this is what we did

at a project in Uganda we basically reset the situation

for a brief moment where they realized "wow!" Basically we are

sort of like we are doing the same kinds of things

and that's you know technology made that possible for us to do it.

And again I invite you to look at the documentary you have online.

So now you might wonder "Who is this guy? Is he like a

filmmaker or a documentary maker or anything?", but not like that.

My name is is Tim. I'm from the Netherlands and I work

at Q42 which is a software agency. So basically we build

applications. We build websites, we build the things that you

probably use around your house. If you turn on your lights

automatically etc etc. So within Q42, some years ago I started

my own department called Hack The Planet. If you look at the news

you see all kinds of things, right. We having lots of

problems with many different kinds of things; with plastic,

with climate change etc etc. So many things that needs

improvement and my take on this is that technology can be a

great part in helping find solutions for these

kind of global challenge that we have. So for instance Hack The Planet

we are working also on a

conservation project where we use technology to combat poaching

So all sorts of different projects that we do.

So back to the project

that we did in Uganda: Meet The Soldier

So. What it resulted in is that these, rivaling tribal leaders

actually became friends after

viewing what they've seen; what they've created for each other.

So an independent interviewer went back several years later

and interviewed all the parties that are involved in creating

the documentary and now they're not rivaling again.

They're just. Basically they're asking for each other, which

shows a great deal of friendship

there. So obviously this was really energizing for me.

But this project was not on itself.

Uh, the reason why these kinds of things work is because

technology can create a bridge

Between people, especially in a distance situation.

And the reason for this is that

virtual reality is registered a little bit differently in the brain.

And if you look online there is many resources available.

For instance, in 2015 University of Nice and

University of Montreal both did a research within virtual

reality and the elderly, and they have some very cool

conclusions based on their research. Is that not only was

it very energizing for these

elderly people, but they got memories back from the past.

And another research of Stanford in 2017 was with the homeless project

The project is called "becoming homeless"

And this research showed that the group that

underwent a virtual reality experience was much more

likely to help out in the specific project that we're

doing. Than the other group that did not have the virtual reality

experience and for all the

people that have experienced

virtual reality themselves. They'll know that the technology

now has so much evolved during the last years. That is indeed

so immersive that indeed some people, when they go in like the

roller coaster simulator, they actually have some sort of fear,

and that's because your brain thinks "what's happening?". This

feels quiet, quiet real. And that's because all sorts of

triggers in your brain go off after a few minutes and they

actually take what they see for real.

So, for entertainment purposes, this is obviously very powerful

But my take on this is that we can also use this mechanic

basically for the better, right, and start looking

into initiatives that could really use this power and turn

it into something that creates empathy and understanding

between people. Especially now when we have so much social distance.

And we are already doing this.

A couple of years ago we started an experiment.

Basically it was a result of a hackathon

where we got the challenge from Municipality of The Hague

a city in Netherlands.

And they basically asked

all sorts of teams to come up with new solutions for the elderly

and especially loneliness amongst the elderly.

So that's a big, big, big challenge and a major topic.

So. The question we had is, is there anything that we can do

with technology and loneliness?

And if you think about it, loneliness is all about social

isolation many times. So the things that we are now

experiencing during the pandemic

Is something that elderly people experience for

years already, which is a sad thing, obviously.

So that got us that got us thinking alot.

And again we started experimenting with virtual reality.

But this time we combine several things.

We combine the experience with a form of entertainment

but probably not something you have in mind. It's really

a very quiet experience. You have to imagine that we recorded all

sorts of experiences like just being on the beach or just

going for a walk or being in the city centre. Or all the things

that young people nowadays can take for granted for doing.

Just a regular things that many times elderly people,

especially in care homes, are not able to do anymore.

So we took these experiences and we made that we made a virtual

reality experience out of it and we started testing.

We actually started testing at care homes and what happened?

That again, that really struck me because these elderly people

that were viewing that experience;

They came out with all sorts of new stories,

energized and so enthusiastic about what they had done,

as if we had taken them on the short holiday.

So for me and I have to be honest, I really did not believe

that it would be working out that way. I know I figured well

all the elderly people how are they going to use the

virtual reality goggles? And it might go wrong and it's new

technology etc. But all these things went pretty OK. Really good.

And as of today, so fast forward, many years later we

have this project rolled out into many care homes in the city

center of The Hague. We're looking out to expanding and to

have more people use this product, and especially now

during the pandemic. We have a

lot of VR goggles that we are deploying for free to

care. Homes and people really enthusiastic about it. Why?

Again, because they're taking basically on a short holiday

That's how they experience it - just a short moment to get out

for a while. Which obviously

doesn't replace social interaction with people

absolutely. So this is the most important thing, right?

Real interaction with people. But my take on this is the following.

Not always is social interaction possible and

not always it's something that

you want. Like for instance.

The example I gave you with the soldiers; rivaling soldiers in Uganda.

You cannot simply put them together and start talking, right?

There's just too much stuff happened for them to connect.

Sometimes you have to reset and then technology,

especially now with virtual reality, can be a very good way

to reset that situation and start building from a new

perspective. And also now we're in this pandemic where we are

forced in from social isolation. We are already using all sorts

of technology. Everyone now is using video calls etc etc. And

again technology can be a really good way to bridge that gap and

I would really love to see new ideas and new innovations where

we take another step and create added value.

So not only are we able to communicate and, that is,

you know that we are sort of like tolerating it

because it's you know it's the next best thing. But because

it's creating added value and the project that I showed you

Meet The Soldier and our project Elders VR I think are great

examples and this is why I always invite fellow creatives,

fellow engineers fellow people that are in the field of

engineering and creating ideas to start working towards these

ideas that can help us; technologies that

can help us do that and create

added value. Thank you.

  • Tim van Deursen

    Technologist, Founder of Hack the Planet

    Tim van Deursen
    © Tim van Deursen 2020

    Tim van Deursen is an engineer on a mission to make a positive contribution to the world. Tim wants to super charge high-tech efforts needed to solve big global challenges. He believes many such challenges we nowadays have can benefit from smart easy to deploy technology. Technology can and needs to be part of solving global challenges.


Nothernlands 2 is a collaboration between ODI Leeds and The Kingdom of the Netherlands, the start of activity to create, support, and amplify the cultural links between The Netherlands and the North of England. It is with their generous and vigourous support, and the support of other energetic organisations, that Northernlands can be delivered.

  • Kingdom of the Netherlands