In response to several requests for a wireless utility meter receiver network relay solution (i.e., an AMR gateway), I spent some time last week working out a reference implementation of just such a thing. To keep costs down and maximize customizability, it uses an off-the-shelf Raspberry Pi running Linux as the host, coupled with a custom adapter board I designed to mate a Grid Insight® OV-1 “Oysterville” 900 MHz AMR receiver module to the Pi.
The adapter board hooks everything together with the added bonus of an on-board real-time clock (RTC) with coin cell battery backup. The adapter makes it painless to plug the Oysterville receiver into any Raspberry Pi, and the RTC removes the Raspberry Pi’s dependency on a network connection for proper timekeeping.
As a package, the Oysterville receiver with a Raspberry Pi can be used as an AMR data gateway connected via wired Ethernet or Wi-Fi. It can also work as an offline data logger that simply writes time-stamped meter reads to a USB memory stick.
With the adapter board done, I went one further and came up with two different ways to mount the whole package: first, an open-frame design with wall-mount plate that makes for easy prototyping, and, second, an all-metal industrial enclosure that can be used either on a desktop (with included rubber feet) or wall-mounted.
With either of these solutions, a connectorized low-noise amplifer (LNA) such as the Mini-Circuits ZX60-0916LN-S+ can be powered by the 5V supply on the adapter board to improve the sensitivity of the OV-1 from -105 dBm to -109 dBm, significantly increasing range.
The Grid Insight® Oysterville receiver module is compatible with specific one-way electricity, water, and gas utility meter transmitters manufactured by Itron, Schlumberger, GE, Hunt, Landis+Gyr, Hersey, Mueller, and Badger. It receives and decodes SCM, IDM, ORION, and Hot Rod protocols, and uses exclusive spread spectrum synchronization technology to receive data as frequently as every seven seconds from some transmitters.
Development and evaluation kits featuring the Grid Insight® OV-1 multi-protocol utility meter receiver module are now available to qualified utilities and related companies. Please contact Grid Insight for more information.
Though I have long known about it and recommended it to OV-1 integrators, I finally got my own paws on Ciseco's Slice of Pi adapter board. (I bought it from Acme Unlimited for $7). This is an easy and affordable way to get a Grid Insight OV-1 receiver module (or any XBee-footprint device) hooked up to the UART and power pins of a Raspberry Pi.
I don't love the mechanical design, in that the Slice of Pi is supported merely by the header pins. The board, module, and antenna cantilever out over the Raspberry Pi and don't seem terribly sturdy. For quick-and-dirty prototyping, though, it beats fabbing up a custom board. I may eventually design something similar, though more robust, adding a battery-backed real-time clock for when the Pi is logging data offline.
For a more flexible anternative, the OV-1 can be wired up to just about anything (including the Arduino and the Raspberry Pi) using 2mm to 2.54mm pitch jumper wires available from Adafruit. I haven't personally tried these, but I hear from people who have that they work fine (though a little hot glue goes a long way when it comes to keeping them from coming unhooked during handling).
After working out kinks in the firmware with early collaborators, the our OV-1 embeddable utility meter receiver module is now available to utilities, utility service providers, and system integrators. Whereas the AMRUSB-1 "USB stick" was great for playing around and getting meter data into a laptop, the OV-1 is 100% about easy integration into larger systems, whether that be pole-mounted AMR collectors as part of a fixed-network AMI strategy or smart irrigation controllers targeting drought-plagued regions.
Take a look and let us know if you want more info. Details here.
A new Grid Insight AMR receiver module is getting ready to launch. w00t! Full details will be posted in due time, but you can see from the photo that this module is pin-compatible with the XBee. That means it will snap into any of the existing XBee-compatible breakout boards and shields (search at Adafruit, Sparkfun, etc.).
No more piecing together bits and pieces to connect with your Arduino, Raspberry Pi, or USB connector of your choice. Just plug and play. Performance is improved over the AMRUSB-1, with receive sensitivity down to at least -106 dBm.
Drop us a note via the Contact page if you'd like to be notified when this goes up for sale.
Over the past few months, Grid Insight has moved beyond Itron ERT-equipped utility meters and turned our attention toward Badger ORION water AMR endpoints. Of those we have tested, both in our lab and in several municipal field deployments, we have found all to follow the same modulation, data encoding, packet structure, and data validation scheme.
Keeping with our strategy of providing the simplest, lowest-cost solution for AMR reception and decoding, we have been able to adapt our inexpensive AMRUSB-1 "USB dongle"-style hardware platform to receive and decode signals from Badger ORION water meter endpoints. We are not yet in a position to offer these units for sale to end-users, but we are willing to work with system integrators who would like to evaluate this technology for possible inclusion in an Advanced Metering Infrastructure product. Receive range of our prototype is around 250 feet through open space in a noisy RF environment, though the range may be increased through enhancements to the hardware platform. Similarly, the receiver and decoder may be modified to run on a variety of inexpensive highly-integrated receiver and microcontroller platforms should the USB interface not be appropriate.
Obvious uses for these new AMR receive and decode capabilities include:
For more information, please contact us.
We believe our method of receiving transmissions from Itron ERT-equipped smart meters represents a new market-shifting invention by enabling reception of ERT signals at significantly lower cost than is possible with the FPGA solution available from Itron. That's why we have filed a patent application covering the technology with the United States Patent and Trademark Office.
The AMRUSB-1, the first product to employ this technology, consists of little more than a single-channel, frequency-agile integrated receiver and a PIC microcontroller with USB interface. This simple design allows us to keep parts cost down and ultimately produce a product capable of receiving ERT signals at a price point significantly lower than anything previously available.
Licenses for our patent-pending "Method For Reception Of Frequency-Hopping Spread Spectrum Radio Transmissions When Hopping Frequencies Are Not Known" are available to hardware manufacturers and system integrators, as are our firmware source code and hardware designs. Please contact us for more information.
Out of curiosity, I recently spent some time banging keywords into Google Insights for Search and Google Trends, two tools that provide charts showing the popularity of certain terms in search queries and news reports. Of the numerous themes I explored, the trend that surprised me the most is the apparent waning of interest in green technology (a.k.a “cleantech”). Take, for example, the following search terms and phrases: “bike commuting”, “home solar”, “solar installation”, “home wind power”, “biofuel”, “hybrid car”, “plug-in hybrid”, “electric car”, and “prius”. In Google Insights for Search, each of these terms showed a dramatic peak in search interest in the summer of 2008, with declining interest ever since.
I don’t pretend to be able to determine the cause, but I am happy to speculate and talk about correlation.
First, note that President’s Obama’s election campaign was running throughout 2008, with perhaps its most active period being the summer of 2008 – the same time period in which interest in so many green technologies peaked. It seems that after the election, consumers’ active interest in cleantech solutions has faded.
Also in 2008, interest in the search terms “foreclosure” and “mortgage default” peaked, most dramatically in the United States. A few months later, early in 2009, searches on “loan restructuring”, “loan relief”, “repossession”, “mortgage rates”, and even “cheap recipes” jumped dramatically. Were people feeling an economic pinch and losing their interest in green technologies because they no longer had money to pay for them? Searches for “mutual funds” seem to have stabilized at roughly half their pre-recession levels.
Those without mortgage trouble seem to have become worried at the same time debtors were growing distracted, because the search phrases “gold bullion”, “civil unrest”, “ar-15”, and “9mm” jumped. Interest in the phrase “underwater mortgage” jumped up from near zero in 2008 to spike in early 2009, then spike at yet higher levels in 2010.
More mundane, yet practical green technologies seem to have had more staying power. Interest in the phrase “energy efficient”, for example, didn’t drop off until the summer of 2010. Perhaps that is due to the widely understood notion that energy efficiency saves money, whereas alternative energy, at least without subsidies, may not.
I’ll leave you to draw your own conclusions. You can access Google Insights for Search directly and run your own queries.
I didn’t just explore green tech. People’s search habits can say something about the state of society too. For example, interest seems to be stagnating, rather than rising, for things one would expect to see associated with a rise in frugality. Some examples are inexpensive family games typically viewed as budget entertainment, e.g.: “chess”, “backgammon”, “jigsaw puzzle”, and “cribbage”. Perhaps this is due to continued mortality of the elderly, those who grew up on such low-tech diversions. If search trends are an indicator, perhaps the budget entertainment void has been filled by Facebook and Twitter, both of which have experienced rising interest in the past two years.
I also observed a worrying trend that reflects a deep-seated lack of confidence in society as a whole: an uptick in searches related to the a fringe survivalist movement, aspects of which are often associated with anti-government militias. Even while interest in practical survival and firearms-related topics like “wilderness survival”, “first aid”, and “hunting” have been dropping off, “ammo”, “223”, “12ga”, “remington buckshot”, “pump shotgun”, “home defense”, “survival weapon”, and “survival knife” are well-above pre-recession levels. Such sustained interest in weapons and ammo while interest in hunting and wilderness survival decreases leads me to conclude that a lot of people are hoarding guns and ammo, or at least would like to do so. Moreover, they are the sort of people who search on the term “ammo” rather than “ammunition”, as the trends for these two words show very distinct shapes (searches on “ammo” remain elevated, while interest in “ammunition” is down to its pre-2008 levels).
This is all very interesting, though regrettably not terribly actionable. That is, unless you are trying to decide whether to invest in cleantech or ammunition companies. Do with it what you will.
Here's a quick report on the Grid Insight AMRUSB-1 and Google PowerMeter integration. I've made excellent progress building a general purpose Google PowerMeter client library in C, which will be useful to me but also useful to anyone else who wants to get data into PowerMeter with minimal hassle. I didn't even look at the Microchip C reference code, instead just working from the Google's docs. The result will be a GPL-licensed Google PowerMeter C client library suitable for running on PCs, in contrast with the Microchip library which was intended for use on embedded devices. I think I'm going to call the library "libgoogpm", for lack of a better name. Suggestions, however, are welcome.
Libgoogpm depends on two things: libcurl for HTTP(S) interactions with Google, and the Mongoose embedded HTTP server. Both are open source packages with GPL-friendly license terms.
After 24 hours of usage of an early alpha version of the libgoogpm library integrated with one of my AMRUSB-1 utility meter data receivers, I have a power profile for my Lenovo X61 tablet and my external NEC LCD2090UXi LCD panel, both of which are being powered in my lab through a metering test harness running an Itron Centron C1SR R300 HP watthour meter.
Here's a screenshot of the result:
This integration is certainly not done, but it is working fine so far.
It's worth noting that I'm feeding only the Itron meter's standard consumption messages (SCM) to PowerMeter. The Itron C1SR R300 meter, however, is one of Itron's newer models and also provides interval data. The libgoogpm will eventually support batch uploading of interval data, so it will be interesting to see how switching over to IDM messages at that point might change the PowerMeter chart. At the very least, using IDMs will allow my AMRUSB-1 host PC to only have to process data from the AMRUSB-1 a few times a day, which means I can let that PC sleep most of the time rather than leaving it powered up simply to process power data. (Seems to defeat the point a little, you know?)
I'll be posting libgoogpm to the web site once I have it completed. There's still a fair amount of work to do on the embedded web server piece, so it could be while longer.
This nine-minute video walks you step-by-step through the Windows XP installation and verification process for the AMRUSB-1 Utility Meter Data Receiver.
To better help beta testing, customers, and potential customers understand the AMRUSB-1, I will be posting a series of screencasts on a variety of topics. The first one simply shows how to connect to the AMRUSB-1 from a Linux host using the AMRUSB-1's native serial interface. I also demonstrate some of the receiver's basic diagnostic commands.
This video and others will be archived here: