Gaming app helps needle scared people get coronavirus vaccine


This Friday, January 8, vaccinations against the coronavirus will begin in the Netherlands. People who are afraid of needles may be deterred by this fear of going for a vaccine. Tilburg University has developed an assistive app to help people control their anxiety.

Fear of needles

People with a phobia of needles can suffer from panic attacks and crying attacks, which can make injections very difficult. Some people also suffer from palpitations and fainting spells. These are reactions of autonomic nervous system, which makes them difficult to control.

Infrared cameras

Elisabeth Huis in ‘t Veld, assistant professor in artificial intelligence, founded the start-up AINAR specifically to develop this application. She used infrared cameras at the Sanquin Blood Bank to examine changes in the faces of blood donors when they were not feeling well. These images were incorporated into an algorithm for the application.

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The game app uses the selfie camera to analyze facial expressions. These images are translated into color in a puzzle. When you show signs of anxiety, stress or fainting it turns red, when you feel calm it turns blue. The user does this puzzle to try to understand their feelings before receiving an injection.

The game

AINAR is already available and you can find the download instructions on AINAR. website. The app will be further developed with the help of user feedback. Huis in ‘t Veld hopes that the app will be available to everyone before the summer.


Huis in ‘t Veld received a Veni grant (Dutch Research Council, NWO) in 2018 for its FAINT (Thermal infrared facial) research. The goal of this research was to develop an artificial intelligence algorithm capable of reading facial cues and anticipating that someone is about to pass out. She received a Takeoff Grant (NWO) in 2019 to develop a prototype of the game.

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