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BRUSSELS OFFICE : +32 (0)2 895 5909

Straight as an arrow

Straight as an arrow


Professor Jerker Delsing discusses the Arrowhead Project and the take-up of the ‘Arrowhead Framework’.

Professor Jerker Delsing, the co-ordinator of the Arrowhead Project – an initiative exploring information service technologies that establish a real-time marketplace and enable the optimisation of energy usage – met with Pan European Networks at the 8th Smartgrids Cleanpower Conference in Cambridge, UK, to discuss the project.

The Arrowhead Project holds that ‘co-operative automation is the key’ and that this ‘is enabled by the technology developed around the Internet of Things (IoT) and Service Oriented Architectures.’ How can this be achieved?

The Arrowhead Project has now spun off an ‘arrowhead framework’, which has been adopted by a number of large European projects – the largest of which has some 800 partners.

From that point of view, while we are not on an industry scale yet, the buzzwords around this area are being heard – and indeed adopted – by many CTOs and companies. We are now seeing industries like energy, and within that the areas of electricity, heating, gas, oil, and so on, with each sector running in its own channel. The emerging situation involves multiple stakeholders – and the value that people see in that situation is significant. We are starting to see companies exploiting this at top management levels. Indeed, in the last couple of years we have started to witness top management going to universities to ask what they should now be doing, and that situation is very different from how it was before.

There is thus now movement – and the necessary technological developments are going in the right direction. However, there is a key gap: how do we engineer these kinds of systems?

Questions thrown up by IoT will take 20 years to fully resolve themselves, but there is the opportunity to solve them. ‘Dotcom’ questions we answered by addressing consumers, for instance, and creating value for the IoT will include involving getting business.

The ball has been set rolling in this sense because management-level teams are now aware of the value. However, the argument that movement is too slow due to the fact that technology is not ready is perhaps a valid one.

One of the grand challenges of Arrowhead is to enable interoperability between systems that are natively based on different technologies. How will that be addressed?

One of the key components there is the automatic translation of protocols, as well as semantics (what is the meaning of ‘data’, for instance, as this hasn’t been addressed yet). We are working towards a situation where engineers aren’t required to do the hacking, and the upcoming development will involve identifying two systems that are not interoperable.

One of the things that hasn’t been discussed at today’s event is how to engineer these big ideas in concrete terms – in business models, physics and security. Do we have the tools to do that? Today I don’t think that we do; there are still missing pieces to the puzzle.

People can nevertheless see the benefits and, conceptually at least, that the technology is there. But whether things can be done on an industrial scale and whether everything can be integrated, remains to be seen.

Can you briefly tell me about the project’s four chosen domains – the aims and challenges?

In Europe today there is a huge focus on production: the production of energy, iron, steel, cars, and so on, as well as on the production of infrastructure services (keeping a highway open).

Some five million connected devices are being used in in Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Five, with most sensors being connected to a local system. It therefore requires a human to read what’s going on and make a decision – and things are only set to get bigger. Indeed, we are now seeing projects emerging that are starting to discuss the questions being thrown up in trying to meet that objective. Current infrastructure is very costly to change, and that is where we need engineering competences. Tertiary education is important here.

With regard to security, this will continue to be a significant issue moving forwards. Yet hackers are attacking legacy technology where there is basically no security at all. Security on control systems is much more lax than security on the internet.

We also need to ask how to build trust between different players. Technology needs to allow for that.

As the project has now finished, what are your hopes for the future?

At the end of project, 16 companies had technologies on the market by 1 January 2017. Our biggest success was in the field of district heating, where two companies (that is now three) now offer a joint product on the market. They have a business model that wouldn’t be possible without IoT interoperability, and revenue expected for the first year is €5-10m. These companies show that it is possible to roll out these solutions on an industrial scale.

Suppliers are now rolling out solutions at this level, and companies that didn’t know about each other beforehand now work together on a platform to integrate their products to form new market offerings. Links are also being created between clusters of companies. The complexity of setting up technologies and business models has been taken down.

The Arrowhead Project has made a remarkable step forward in terms of technology, as well as in working across both government and industry. This, in the end, is a huge step in building confidence in the future.


The 4th Graphene New Materials Conference Summit and Showcase will be held on 2-3 November 2017, in Cambridge, UK.

The 9th Smart Grids and 4IR developments (SGCP) conference will be held on 25-26 June, 2018, in Cambridge, UK.


Jerker Delsing


Arrowhead project


This article will appear in Pan European Networks: Science & Technology issue 24, which will be published in September, 2017.

Pan European Networks Ltd