The project “Maré: Anonymous Mobilization of Return to normality to mitigate the covid-19 epidemic”, led by professor Nuno Jardim Nunes, was selected by Fundação para a Ciência e a Tecnologia (FCT) – 2nd edition of “RESEARCH 4 COVID -19 ”. The project team developed a versatile platform for digital tracking of people that can be used to respond to the various problems caused by the pandemic – and not only -, and protects the privacy of citizens. The team is composed of researchers from the Interactive Technologies Institute (ITI / LARSyS), Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computadores – Investigação e Desenvolvimento (INESC-ID), Institute of Public Health – University of Porto (ISPUP), and Instituto de Administração de Saúde da Madeira.
“The idea for this project arose almost spontaneously from a group of Técnico professors, when we were talking about the need to work on a different approach to the problem of COVID-19 Apps”, explains Nuno Jardim Nunes, Técnico professor, ITI / LARSyS researcher and project leader. “As human factors experts, we are well aware of the challenges of adopting technology, as well as the concerns about privacy, security and convenience for citizens. The COVID-19 crisis is almost a perfect example of what we call a “wicked problem”” adds the ITI / LARSyS researcher.
According to the team members, returning to normal after covid-19 state of emergency was the main challenge. “People are scared and afraid. COVID-19 have made changes to our everyday lives, so it’s important to understand how we can help in a sustainable way”. In order to solve this huge challenge, “instead of asking how technology can help doctors and authorities, we asked how technology can help citizens to return to normal, in a safe and reliable way. We put citizens at the center of the problem instead of authorities”, stresses professor Nuno Jardim Nunes.
“The platform uses Flutter and Dart”, stresses the project leader. “We are also involved in international collaborations to find non-intrusive contact tracker solutions, which do not involve sharing user data, for example, using WiFi”, he adds. It is expected that the project invloves voluntary users who will help answer doctors’ questions, duly approved by an ethics committee. “The idea of this project is to act as a platform for testing in specific communities and not be a general and universal solution, because we simply don’t believe in that”, says professor Nuno Jardim Nunes.
Although the team has three months to develop the project, the first prototype of “Maré” is ready and was developed on a voluntary basis. The FCT funding, worth €40,000, will contribute to help improving some important features such as the gamification models, which may include, for example, the creation of behaviour change awards.
“We want our project to be an open and available experimentation platform for civil and scientific communities, within three months, not only in the context of COVID-19”, says professor Nuno Jardim Nunes. “The Regional Government of Madeira has already access to our platform and will adapt it to support re-opening of tourism in the Islands”, explains the Técnico professor. “We are available to do the same, free of charge, with other communities in order to help mitigating the economic impact of COVID-19”, adds the project leader.
The project is composed of a multidisciplinary team that involves designers, computer engineers, psychologists and public health doctors. “Design is important because it helps us find the right problem, while engineering often moves towards a solution without questioning whether it will solve the right problem”, points out professor Nuno Jardim Nunes. The involvement of doctors and psychologists will “contribute indirectly to help better understand important public health issues”.
According to the Técnico professor, COVID-19 “is an opportunity to create quick interdisciplinary responses”. “I am involved in two other Técnico projects. It was unexpected. If this pandemic didn’t exist, these projects probably would never have happened”, he shares. Aware that this is a “wicked problem” and therefore requires unconventional responses, professor Nuno Jardim Nunes congratulates FCT “for have managed to react to the situation”. “Some of my European colleagues are asking why their funding entities didn’t do the same”, highlights the professor.