When thought of at a distance, many of today’s societal challenges stem from waste, inadequate use of resources, lack of integrated solutions and effort replication. In addition already until 2030 the population of the world will likely grow to an amount of 8.5bn people (+1.2bn vs. 2015), rising to 9.7bn in 2050 and 11.2bn in 2100 according to the actual United Nations predictions. All of this is leading not only to citizens being unable to maintain their living standards, but most importantly, to what some academics call defuturing. Facing this challenge, societies demand more from less for more, seemingly unsolvable, but which appears to be the point in ancient Greek drama, when such an impenetrable problem is suddenly disentangled by a new element coming onto the play: the ‘Deus ex Machina’.

Societies are striving for these new elements towards efficiency gains mediated by a symbiotic relationship of humans with technology. We need elements such as these, which are able to deal with complex problems and, at the same time, be transparent to the users, as ‘companions’ who assist in difficult, unknown or just prosaic tasks.

To start tackling these challenges in specific target domains, Fraunhofer Portugal AICOS hosted (on the 28th of April) the kick off meeting of the new project, Deus ex Machina. The ALGORITMI Research Centre from the School of Engineering of the University of Minho, the Center for Health Technology and Services Research (CINTESIS), the Centre for the Research and Technology of Agro-Environmental and Biological Sciences (CITAB), the Research Centre in Sports Sciences, Health Sciences and Human Development (CIDESD), the Centre for Textile Science and Technology, and the Center for Psychology of the University of Porto (CPUP) are the co-promotors of the project, which counts also with the partnership of institutions as the Center of Informatics of the Eduardo Mondlane University and the Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University.

The project is structured in two research lines, being one built on top of the other. The first, the ‘Eyes of the Internet of Things’ Competence Centre (EITCC), will research and create building blocks, from tangible to intangible elements, while the second, the ‘Companion’ Competence Centre (C3),  will put these building blocks at the service of pressing societal needs in European and African countries. The EITCC will concentrate on understanding the environment, the user, their context and actions, while the C3 will study relevant societal challenges within scientific domains in relation to humans, in order to design ‘companions’, which are non-intrusive, assistive tools for everyday life in several domains, as Health and wellbeing, Nutrition and Agriculture.