Science and Technology

Técnico researchers win EUR 2,5 million for a project that combines digital technologies with major societal challenges

Professors Nunes Jardim Nunes and Rodrigo Miragaia Rodrigues are part of a restricted group of researchers awarded with ERA CHAIRs, funded under the EU programme Horizon 2020.

The project BIG (Blockchain technologies and design Innovation for social Good), led by two Técnico researchers, from ITI / LARSyS and INESC-ID, was awarded an ERA Chair – within the scope of the Spreading Excellence programme and Widening Participation (Widening), included in the EU Framework Programme for Research and Innovation, Horizon 2020. During the next 5 years, the team led by the Técnico professors (DEI/IST)) Nuno Jardim Nunes (ITI / LARSyS) and Rodrigo Miragaia Rodrigues (INESC-ID), will have a EUR 2,5 million funding, which allow to build an interdisciplinary team dedicated to top research on topics that combine blockchain technology, innovation through design and the development of new solutions for societal challenges.

The European Union considers Blockchain technologies as a key for the future, since they allow a more transparent, reliable, user-centered digital services and the promotion of social innovations, as well as new decentralised business models. Combining the innumerable potentialities of this technology, BIG intends to improve and apply them in different areas, such as health, energy, digital citizenship, transport or creative industries.

“Our goal was to get substantial funding that allowed Técnico to become a centre of excellence in this emerging technology and, above all, bring together researchers from different research units”, says professor Nuno Jardim Nunes. “This ERA Chair is a unique opportunity to bring together researchers with different backgrounds and from different associated laboratories, in the area of information technology, to create synergies that allow us to compete with the best research groups in this area”, says professor Rodrigo Miragaia Rodrigues , who had already won a ERC starting grant in 2012, to improve cloud computing reliability.

This ERA Chair is “an opportunity to highlight Técnico, ITI / LARSyS and INESC-ID leadership in an emerging area that experiences a strong demand from industry and can be applied to new social impact areas”, says professor Nuno Jardim Nunes, who led an ERA Chair project, in 2014. “Rodrigo is the cloud technology expert. I am more concerned about how a potentially disruptive technology can solve specific problems with social impact ”, explains the Técnico professor.

Blockchain is already used in many areas, although its application tends to be associated only with the financial area. “For example, this technology is used in the creative industries 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. “Even now, the World Health Organization has launched a blockchain-based platform for global information and tracking of the COVID-19 pandemic. It is a good example of how it can be used to manage a global phenomenon, in which the data that belong to patients can (and should) be shared by everyone”, says the DEI professor.

BIG is a project that aims to strengthen the link with the business ecosystem. “We have several companies already involved in the project, many of them from Carnegie Mellon Portugal program”, explains professor Nuno Jardim Nunes. “One of our goals is to foster an innovation ecosystem that brings together universities, companies, and highly innovative tech startups, including several unicorn startup companies that supported the proposal of this ERA Chair”, highlights professor Rodrigo Miragaia Rodrigues. “Técnico, together with its research units, aims to bring together top research performed within academic circles with the engineering challenges faced by companies and societal organisations”, highlights the INESC-ID researcher.

In total, the Portuguese researchers raised EUR 34 million. 22 projects were approved by Twinning and ERA CHAIRs under the Spreading Excellence and Widening Participation programme. “Portugal has been one of the countries that has been the most successful in seizing opportunities of H2020. I think that this year almost 50% of the funded proposals came from our country, which is something that we can all be proud of. At the same time, it shows the great vitality of the Portuguese scientific research”, says professor Nuno Jardim Nunes. “Research and science in Portugal has achieved impressive results, especially considering that the budget of our universities and research centres are significantly lower than the other institutions we compete directly”, points out professor Rodrigo Miragaia Rodrigues .