Cambridge, UK-based Cambridge Consultants has delivered a prototype design of a Bluetooth-based radio module to 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 low cost.

The new module would allow consumers with Bluetooth mobile phones, laptops or PDAs to have the option of taking meter readings themselves and communicating them to the utility company over the Internet or GSM, providing a 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.

The connectivity aspect is emphasized in Cambridge Consultants' design, which uses Bluetooth "Profiles" to enable application-level communications 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. This design also uses the BlueCore chip from CSR and further optimizes economy by ensuring that the large complement of application software that provides "universal" connectivity runs purely on the processor already embedded in the Bluetooth device. This is possible because of Cambridge Consultants' development partner relationship with CSR, which allows it to customize on-chip BlueCore software.

Actaris chose Cambridge Consultants to produce this example design because of its preeminent 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".