Wireless data collection benefits man, and his best friend too

When dog bites man, or vice versa, neither comes off well. Municipal WiFi can backhaul meter data and put an end to human-canine turf wars.

Reading a meter, or delivering a letter, can both pose risks when there are dogs involved, but the risk isn’t always to the human and the solution isn’t always obvious.Dogs are fiercely territorial, as postman and meter readers both know to their cost, but while letters have to be delivered, the meter can be equipped with wireless technology to enable remote operation, the delivery of data without endangering the utility staff or the faithful dogs.

The fact is that few dogs can take on a fully-grown human, but not many of them know that. Blinded by territorial loyalty, and perhaps overestimating their abilities, most canines will launch into the fray without hesitation. Our meter reader, surprised by the cacophonous assault, will often defend without thinking, striking out to the detriment of the Pekinese or Yorkshire Terrier that is unaware of its own diminutive stature.

In the first half of 2012 only one American meter reader visited hospital as a result of a dog bite, though 14 attacks were reported. The numbers sound small, but it seems ‘fear’ of attack is, perhaps, equally important – one US utility failed to read 6000 meters in the third quarter of 2013, thanks to threats of dog attack, and it charged customers $85 for a repeat visit if their favourite pooch wasn’t “visibly restrained” on the day the meter reader called again, even unannounced.

So, at best the dog gets chained up for days at a time, on the off chance that the meter reader will call, and at worst, both dog and staff get injured while faithfully carrying out their allotted tasks.

The easy solution is, of course, for everyone to own a cat. A cat will approach intruders, but only to ascertain if they represent a potential source of food. Having established the meter reader, or burglar alike, isn’t carrying suitable treats the cat will return to its own more important affairs, permitting the humans to maintain their happy delusion of being in charge.

Unfortunately, despite the intuitive nature of that solution it’s surprisingly unpopular, and it seems that both pet dogs and meter reading are here to stay, but that doesn’t mean the two should necessarily collide.

Wireless meter reading has been around for decades. The utility meter is equipped with a radio transmitter capable of sending accumulated data to a passing van, but such solutions are limited in scope. Systems with their own back haul – using, for example, the cellular telephone networks – are an improvement, but users are beholden to those networks (and the company that  owns them), which can prove expensive as mobile phone technology is unsuitable for collecting the tiny amounts of data which comprise a meter reading.

This dilemma is driving many municipalities to backhaul data by deploying their own networks, based on the license-free ISM (Industrial, Scientific, Medical) bands. Those bands are shared with WiFi users, but ABB`s Tropos platform enables users to step out of that crowd and into a mesh network that provides not only redundant backhaul but also public WiFi, as installed in Venice and Santa Clara, California.

It’s not the first time a cities have deployed WiFi with the intention of connecting their own staff and connectivity to utilities, but the technology is only now reaching maturity. Early deployments suffered from their own popularity, as residents jumped onto subsidized connectivity, and lack of reliability in the consumer-level equipment they deployed led to intermittent coverage. But modern systems offer more-granular control, enabling traffic to be prioritized, and mesh networks like Tropos can dynamically fix themselves by rerouting connections should a router fail. This platform is, of course, particularly good at this stuff, which is why cities like Venice and Santa Clara are using it.

City WiFis can connect up with traffic wardens and dust carts, and their municipal owners can hire out connectivity to utilities. The WiFi is unlicensed, so the utility can add connectivity to their meters without being locked to a specific network provider.

The dog, meanwhile, can roam freely around the yard and focus its efforts in the enemy of ages past – the postman.

Related links: http://www.tropos.com/

Image credit: [puamelia] under cc license via flickr. Changes made: image was cropped to size and image credit added to photo.


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About the author

Bill Ray

Bill Ray is an engineer turned scribe, now working for ABB as a Technical Writer. He previously worked for the scurrilous internet rag The Register, prior to which he made phones, at O2, and set-top boxes, at Cable & Wireless. He's authored two technical books on Java and now spends most of his time trying to understand the power business.
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