Cambridge Consultants Prototypes Bluetooth Radio Module for Utility Meters

6/22/2004 - Cambridge Consultants has delivered a prototype design of a Bluetooth-based radio module to the leading utility metering company, Actaris. Based on a single-chip Bluetooth device, the module provides new opportunities to drive down the cost of remote metering, allowing meters to be wireless-enabled at very low cost and opening the door to high-integrity consumer-activated schemes.

The wide availability of Bluetooth on consumer devices was key to Actaris' and Cambridge Consultants' decision to select this particular technology from the wireless options available. Using the new module, consumers with Bluetooth mobile phones, laptops or PDAs would have the option of taking meter readings themselves and communicating them to the utility company over the internet or GSM, providing a radical means for Actaris' customers to cut their costs. The module also supports 'walk-by' meter reading by utility personnel using low-cost commercially-available devices such as smart phones.

The radio module is currently fitted to an Actaris ACE1000, a low-cost single-phase electricity meter designed for residential applications. Actaris is demonstrating the meter and offering samples to clients worldwide who are investigating remote reading schemes.

"We have had a proprietary radio module for remote reading available for some five years, and this has already entered service on mainland Europe," says Chris Shelley, R&D Manager for Residential Metering at Actaris. "Progress in wireless standards since then offers the means to advance remote reading schemes even further, and this prototype Bluetooth design allows our clients to evaluate the potential."

The connectivity aspect is emphasised in Cambridge Consultants' design, which uses Bluetooth 'Profiles' to enable application level communication with pre-existing devices such as phones, PDAs and laptops. Profiles are small software utilities that configure Bluetooth for particular applications such as business card exchange. Cambridge Consultants' design also uses a highly cost-effective single-chip Bluetooth device - the BlueCore chip from CSR - and further optimises economy by ensuring that the large complement of application software which provides 'universal' connectivity - runs purely on the processor already embedded into the Bluetooth device. This is possible because of Cambridge Consultants' development partner relationship with CSR which allows it to customise on-chip BlueCore software.

Actaris chose Cambridge Consultants to produce this example design because of its pre-eminent position in wireless design in general, and its long track record in Bluetooth. The design was delivered in just three months, and uses the BlueCore2 device with firmware incorporating a number of Bluetooth Profiles including object push and serial port (OPP and SPP). These are typically available on all Bluetooth-enabled phones, PDAs or laptops. The application software includes the ability for a consumer to exchange a business card or V-note with the meter - which responds with a business card containing the readings and other data.

"Bluetooth represents a major here-and-now opportunity for wireless-enabling equipment," says Nick Marley, Cambridge Consultants' project manager. "Single-chip radios equipped with a microcontroller are now available for well below $5, and the technology is commonplace on mobile devices. It could be many years before alternative short-range wireless technologies reach this level of penetration."

"Although this radio design is a prototype", he adds, "it can be converted easily to a ROM-based solution - providing a means of wireless-enabling meters with an extremely small bill of materials".

More information:

About Actaris
Actaris is a world leader in the design and manufacturing of meters and associated systems for the electricity, gas, water and heat markets. Its innovative products and systems integrating the best-in class technologies are specially designed for public or private energy and water suppliers, services companies and industrial organisations. The group is active in more than 30 countries with a strong presence in Europe, Asia and South America. With 6,000 employees, Actaris' turnover for the year 2003 reached 632 million euros.

Cambridge Consultants designs and develops innovative new products, processes and systems. The organisation enables clients to turn business opportunities into commercial successes, whether launching first-to-market products, or expanding existing markets through the introduction of new technologies. With a team of over 250 engineers and scientists, Cambridge Consultants is able to offer solutions across a diverse range of industries including healthcare, telecommunications, industrial and consumer products, automotive and aerospace. Operating from purpose-built laboratories on the Cambridge Science Park, Cambridge Consultants works for multinationals and small companies alike.

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