Drive-by meter readings on tap

In Plano, Texas, technology is changing the tedious and time-consuming

ritual of walking from house to house to read water meters.

By September, the city plans to attach 7,300 small electronic units to existing

water meters. Developed by Richardson, Texas-based Data-matic.com, the units

would electronically transmit data as city meter-readers drive by.

Johnny Kemp, the city's meter-reading supervisor, said a worker can

gather data from 200 meters in about an hour by driving by at about 20 miles

per hour. It would take a worker on foot more than half a day to check all

those meters, he said.

Although gas and electric utilities have used radio-frequency meter-reading

for about 15 years, automated devices for water meters have only been developed

in the past six years, said Todd Onsa, marketing director for Datamatic.com.

In the past year, Onsa said he's seen a growing interest among municipalities

in such technology. At least 50 municipalities from St. Helena, Calif.,

to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., have ordered the company's product, which can be

attached to any existing meter. The devices send out a radio signal every

three seconds to an antenna affixed to the top of a vehicle, Kemp said.

A laptop computer within the vehicle logs the data.

Datamatic.com's product can store 74 days' worth of hourly usage data.

So if a customer disputes a bill, the city can check a digital paper trail.

Located about 20 miles north of Dallas, Plano has 71,000 water meters.

One part-time and seven full-time readers monitor them in business and residential

districts covering 73 square miles, Kemp said. City workers do about 830,000

readings a year.

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