World-leading technology company Sagentia and client Master Meter have designed and developed a breakthrough water meter register, AccuLinx. The patented* technology behind the non-contact, 8 wheel system, ‘Gray Wheels’, was also invented by Sagentia. The project generated more than $1million in consulting fees for Sagentia, and the ongoing license deal for the core technology will generate $4.5million for the company over a number of years.
AccuLinx is an 8 wheel absolute encoder without batteries that connects the water meter to 3rd party Automatic Reading (AMR) systems using Sagentia’s ‘Gray Wheels’ sensing technology. The new 8-wheel system provides utility companies a way of accurately, remotely, and electronically reading the mechanical odometer for billing purposes and detecting leaks. This system is extremely low-power and is ‘non-contact’ creating no friction. Therefore, it enables use with multi-jet systems, which make up about half of the water meters used in the world, most of which until now have previously been exempt from AMR for this reason.
Sagentia was approached by Master Meter initially to design the mechanics (gearbox and enclosure) for a water meter register based on a third party’s 6-wheel encoder. During a two-year development, Sagentia carried out various phases of work on the design, in particular looking at the number of gears. Through a clever combination of maths and mechanics, Sagentia initially reduced the tooling outlay for the gearbox variants by 90 percent - saving Master Meter millions of dollars. Sagentia also changed the design to include 8 wheels, not 6 at this stage.
During this development Dr Robin Lee, Head of Science and Technology at Sagentia came up with an idea for a new sensing principle for the absolute encoder, which reads the position of the wheels in an odometer (like a trip meter in a car). The technology was named ‘Gray Wheels’. Dr Lee presented the idea to Scott Seehoffer, Director or AMR Technology at Master Meter, and he saw the potential to develop a real breakthrough product. An exclusive license deal was signed with Sagentia for the use of the technology.
Dr Robin Lee comments: "I was trying to think of ways to improve on the existing technology. We had previously been doing work on inductive sensors as a simple detector of a metal object and I was able to build on this to develop an idea that would uniquely determine the position in a number of zones. I spent the weekend writing up the idea and described it to some of my colleagues the following week."
He continues: "We were aware of the technologies available for absolute encoders for water meter registers. However, there were still some problems. To make the idea more widely applicable and useful we needed a spatial pattern code for the coils that had some very special properties. Fortunately, one of our mathematical experts, Dr Ross Jones, was able to solve this challenging problem and soon we had the foundations of a unique sensor system."
Sagentia has a history of clever sensing technology. In more recent years, Sagentia has been further developing its sensing capabilities with the development of Captrack, a novel, low-cost water level sensor which promises reduced costs for white goods manufacturers and more energy efficient washing for the consumer, plus provides accurate, non-contact, fuel level sensing for the automotive industry. The Gray Wheels technology builds on Sagentia’s capabilities even further, in the specific area of water meters, and the license in this instance is exclusive to Master Meter.
Dr Lee continues: "We will continue to develop the Gray Wheels technology and believe there could be other applications where real breakthroughs are possible in a number of industry sectors. Because we can design and develop both the clever science and the detailed mechanics behind a product, and take it through to manufacture if necessary, we offer a smoother route to market for firms wanting to engage in real radical, breakthrough developments."
AccuLinx was launched by Master Meter at the American Water Works Association’s ACE 2008 conference – the world’s most comprehensive and diverse water conference, June 8-11, Georgia World Congress Centre, Atlanta, Georgia. 570 presentations representing the work of more than 1,000 experts in the water industry, providing an excellent platform for those interested in the future of the water industry.
The technology ‘Gray Wheels’ – how it works
Gray Wheels reads the position of wheels in an odometer. Each of the wheels carries a small conductive target which can interact with a pattern of coils placed between each of the wheels. These coils consist of a transmit coil and a number of receive coils in a special spatial arrangement. The layout is such that no signal is received on the receive coil from a signal on the transmit coil.
However, the presence of the small conductive target over certain areas of the receive coils unbalances this arrangement due to the eddy currents induced in the target and a telltale signal is picked up in the receive coil. At the heart of the technology is a unique code embodied in the pattern of the coils which allows the position of the target, and hence the wheel to be determined.
The encoder system determines the position of the wheel to one of 30 main zones (3 per decimal digit) and the unique design means that many wheels can be stacked side by side without affecting each other or being sensitive to external interferences.
While elegant, technically advanced and robust, the embodiment is very simple, low power and low cost. The odometer wheels only have to carry a small metal foil target and the coils can be implemented as a pattern of tracks on a PCB. The electronics is simple as well requiring only a standard low power micro-controller and some FET switches to multiplex the signals to the various wheels and coils.
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Notes for Editors:
*The patent application has been applied for.
Sagentia is a leading international technology consulting and IP licensing organisation with a reputation for successfully commercialising emerging science and technology. Sagentia creates, develops and delivers business opportunities, products and services for its clients.
Established in 1986, Sagentia operates in six global market sectors – medical, industrial products, consumer products, chemicals, materials & energy, telecoms & media and public sector - developing new technologies, products and services that change the basis of competition. The company also assists business leaders to create strategies for technology, innovation and growth.
Sagentia’s resources are situated in state-of-the-art facilities in Europe, the USA, and China.
Sagentia is listed on the London Stock Exchange (Sagentia Group AG, LSE: SGA.L) and has more than 200 employees.
Sagentia has a history of clever sensing technology:
• 1995 developed a new non-contact inductive positioning sensor
• 1996 US automotive license deal, for throttle and steering wheel positioning sensing
• 1998 Licensing deal with toy manufacturer, Zowie, for its interactive pirate ship game
• 2002 PDA stylus tracking, touch screen technology for Synaptics
• 2004 TT electronics license for Automotive sensor applications
About Master Meter
Master Meter is based in Mansfield, Texas and is owned by Arad, and Israeli holding company that make and sell residential water meters worldwide.
Master Meter is a leading AMR technology innovator and principal water meter manufacturer delivering technology focused revenue solutions to the North American utility marketplace. Our 3G® technology is the industry's first and only Automatic Meter Reading (AMR) solution to locate all of the encoder and transmitter electronics, battery, and antenna safely inside the register free of wires, hassles and installation worries, and it's backed by a 20 year guarantee.
Standard on each 3G® are customizable 4,000 points of data logging, and an array of Revenue Impact Alerts™ that guard against theft, leak and stuck meter scenarios. Deployment of our award-winning ConnectionFree™ wireless 3G® AMR technology across Water, Gas and Electric utility platforms make possible robust solutions for meter data delivery and information control.
Core metering solutions include positive displacement, multi-jet and turbine products derived from advanced CFD technology, all available in a wide range of sizes and configurations.
AccuLinx works with most any AMR system in place, and the 3G Interpreter works with most any meter in place.
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