A Water-Meter Reading Robot?

October 13, 2009

2 Min Read
A Water-Meter Reading Robot?

By coincidence, Texas Instruments and Freescale Semiconductor both sent email messages today to tout their “metering” integrated circuits that let engineers design small efficient products that can work within electric, water, and gas meters. Products from TI include microcontrollers, power-semiconductors, and low-power wireless transmitters and transceivers. Freescale’s product lineup also include microcontrollers and wireless ICs as well as proximity, pressure and acceleration sensors.

You can read about TI’s meter-type products at: http://www.ti.com/corp/docs/landing/smartmetering/index.html?DCMP=Metering&HQS=Other+OT+metering.

Find Freescale’s metering information at http://www.freescale.com/webapp/sps/site/overview.jsp?nodeId=02430Z6A10.

Those email messages got my mechatronics cortex thinking. In my town, the water department uses Neptune electronic meters that communicate information with a truck that drives through our neighborhood. A computer in the truck has the coordinates for each meter, the meter number, and an electronic-meter-reader ID number. If the receiving computer detects a problem, such as no information or an excessively high or low meter reading, it notifies a service person who can manually check the meter and do any repairs after a close-in check with a handheld wireless reader. All water meters in town have this type of wireless-meter attachment. The circular meter-access cover near our street includes a small antenna.


The lid of my water meter includes a circular antenna for meter reading. (Foot not included. For comparison purposes only.)

But with all the attention to “automatic” and “electronic” meter reading, someone still must drive around town to get close to each meter’s antenna. That made me wonder if anyone had developed a meter-reading robot. A Google search came up empty.

In practice a robot could travel through subdivisions and read meters along the way. Someone could “drop off” a robot in a subdivision and the robot would go along and read the meters–probably between midnight and sunrise.  Then they’d pick up the robot and download all the meter info.

But such a robot would have to move autonomously through treacherous territory. Would it slither along the gutter or roll on sidewalks?  What if the town lacks curbs, gutters, and sidewalks? How would you protect it from vandalism and loose dogs? Would it make the neighborhood dogs bark?  How would vehicles know to avoid it?  What happens at intersections, stop signs, storm drains, and driveway curb cuts? What about a small autonomous aircraft that could fly over neighborhoods and read meters? Is such a robot or aircraft practical? Has anyone tried it? –Jon Titus

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