Nuno Nunes, president of ITI / LARSyS and Full Professor at Instituto Superior Técnico, and Rodrigo Rodrigues (IST / INESC-ID) have recently obtained a 2.5 million euros funding for a project that combines digital technologies with major societal challenges.
The BIG project – Blockchain technologies and design Innovation for social Good – is a European Research Area Chair (ERA CHAIR) project, funded by the European Commission, under the Horizon 2020 program, as part of the Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation (Widening) included in the European Union Framework Program. The research project will be carried out during the next 5 years. This funding is very coveted among researchers, and hard to attain.
It will allow the project leaders to form an interdisciplinary team dedicated to top research on topics that combine the technological opportunities of blockchain, innovation through design and the development of new solutions for the societal challenges that are imposed.
Blockchain technologies make it possible to establish a transaction record in a highly reliable and completely distributed manner, without the need to rely on a central entity to maintain that same record. Due to the scope of application, the European Union considers these technologies to be key to the future since they enable the emergence of transparent, reliable, user-centered digital services and the promotion of social innovations as well as new business models with a higher level decentralization. Gathering the innumerable potentialities of this technology, BIG intends to improve and apply them in several domains such as health, energy, digital citizenship, transport, or the creative industries.
Nuno Nunes is experienced in leading such projects since in 2014 he has led an ERA CHAIR, the first delivered to national projects. Nuno explained that he is more concerned with how a potentially disruptive technology can be applied to solve concrete problems with social impact, while Rodrigo is the specialist in cloud technology, stressing how much disruptive and useful blockchain technology can be to solve various societal challenges.
When it comes to blockchain, it is being used in different areas nowadays, although its application tends to be associated only with the financial area. “For example, in the creative industries this technology is used to protect authors’ rights or in global distribution chains to ensure that producers in less developed countries are properly paid,” says the ITI / LARSyS researcher.
Rodrigues exemplified one of the applications of the blockchain technologies “even now WHO (the World Health Organization) has just launched a blockchain to try to help data sharing and its reliability in managing the pandemic. It is a good example of how this distributed technology can be used to manage a global phenomenon in which the data that belong to patients can (and should) be shared by everyone.”
BIG is also a project that aims to bridge the business ecosystem, involving countless companies in it, including several that were created around the CMU Portugal partnership and Nuno highlighted the openness for more industrial partners to join the project.
One of the project’s goals is “to foster an innovation ecosystem that brings together universities, companies, and a generation of highly innovative new technological startups, among which are several companies classified as unicorns that supported the proposal of this ERA CHAIR” says Professor Rodrigo.
Nuno and Rodrigo, besides being both Professors of the Informatics Engineering Department at IST, they are also co-directors of the Carnegie Mellon Portugal international partnership, which will facilitate the project alignment.
Overall, Portuguese researchers raised 34 million euros with 22 projects approved in the Twinning and ERA CHAIRs applications under the Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation (Widening) program. For Nuno Nunes, these figures reflect the merit and innovation that guides national research. “Portugal has consistently been one of the countries that have best known how to take advantage of the opportunities of H2020. This year I think that 9/20 (almost 50%) of the funded proposals came from Portugal, which is a source of pride for everyone and of great vitality in our scientific system,” says Nuno. “Research and science in Portugal have achieved impressive results, especially considering that the budgets of our universities and research centers are significantly lower than those of the institutions with which we compete directly,” points out, in turn, Professor Rodrigo Miragaia Rodrigues.
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