“JFDI’s solution was awesome. From a limited brief, their methodical, multi-disciplinary engineering-based approach took us from zero to an entire prototype system in just three months. Taking it forward to field trials was a no-brainer.”Consumer Services Manager

Smarter Smart Metering Rearch and Development Project for Leading UK Utility Company

Our client was attempting to lead the way in consumer usage savings but was searching for ways to encourage users to be more economical and what would work better across the board than mere financial incentives. The company had ventured early into Smart Metering and was unimpressed with the meter companies’ offerings.

The initial generation of drive-by meters was only read every few months. The next generation of connectivity would require infrastructure investment of up to £50M, against a background of competitor companies having problems implementing the same technology. Indeed was there a middle ground?

JFDI’s approach for a smarter smart metering

JFDI knew that the only realistic way of engaging consumers in this way was through the appropriate and measured use of Gamification techniques. Gamification requires data, a lot more data than was being provided by existing metering arrangements. So we needed to read the meter a lot more often. Yes, the next generation of meters would allow this, but with a closed and proprietary system, no direct access to the data. And with a vast infrastructure bill (£50k per receiver mast, one mast per 3 sq km) and a long lead time for its construction.

Our wealth of experience guides our clients to stick to their core competencies and operate their businesses. Our client isn’t a communications company and has no wide-area communications network. Yet their meter supplier drove them down that road towards creating their network. Competitors were already experiencing difficulties with their fixed networks. Fresh thinking was needed. So JFDI went back to engineering basics, identified each challenge, and solved them individually.

The Challenges

1. Getting the data from the existing meter

Without changing meters, JFDI experimented with various methods for reading the meter. Accuracy, reliability and low power consumption were all of vital importance. Also noteworthy was the ability to operate in hostile environments. Existing meter stock from several manufacturers required several casing designs, with IP6x penetration ratings an important factor. JFDI’s solution is 100% accurate within normal usage conditions. It remains in an ultra-low-power mode for 99.98% of the time, ensuring that the lifetime of the consumer-replaceable batteries is slightly shorter than their shelf-life. #classified 3D design and 3D printing allowed JFDI to rapidly prototype casing designs resulting in a final design suitable for user installation and mass production.

2. Transmitting the data to a local receiver

Meter placement varies widely, making RF communications challenging. So we needed to stick to low frequencies and wide-bandwidth, frequency-hopping, and spread-spectrum technologies and have a local station for receiving and relaying the data. This is exactly what the meter suppliers fixed networks do. Transmission four times a day was plenty for everyone’s purposes. JFDI came up with an innovative and revolutionary combination of technologies that ensure reliable transmission & reception whilst not requiring a private fixed network to be installed. #classified

3. Relaying the data to the cloud

Our client had no prior use of cloud computing facilities and no scalable, fault-tolerant way of automatically receiving and storing data transmitted from meters. JFDI created cloud-based backend storage, a customer web portal, and a secure REST API to glue the process together.

4. Fault tolerance, redundancy and failover

Some intelligent metering solutions aren’t fault-tolerant, and data gets lost in transmission. Some seem to take security not at all seriously because, after all, it’s only metering data. When it all breaks down, which seems to be all too often, someone needs to go and read the meters, which is slow and costly. We built in the best currently available security protocols with options to upgrade security in future. Each stage in the process caches its data, and possible outages are recognised and reported. We even managed to create redundancy in the system. #classified

5. A Gamified Consumer App

The final stage in the process was to use all the gathered data to achieve the other original goal: Engaging consumers to encourage them to exhibit more desirable behaviours and refrain from detrimental behaviours. Gamification can help with this. But creating a gamified user experience is a specialist job. As well as a customer service portal, a smartphone mobile app was cited as a significant requirement to serve as a site and focus for the gamified process. JFDI enlisted the help of leading gamification consultancy Gamification+ to design a roadmap of features to not only enthuse and engage users now but keep them engaged far into the future. A range of reward types ensures that the app will appeal to all the diverse personality groups comprising our client’s consumer base.

Client overview

A Leading UK Utility Company

Country or Region:
United Kingdom

Retail Utilities Supply

Company Profile:
The company is a leading UK utility company, seeking innovative uses of technology to better engage consumers in making usage savings for the sake of the environment.

JFDI services provided

Services used:

  • R&D Consultancy
  • Process Modelling
  • Systems Design
  • Gamification Consultancy
  • Electronics Design
  • Firmware Engineering
  • Software Engineering
  • Cloud Technologies Consultancy
  • Cloud Technologies Development
  • Product Design
  • Production Engineering

Software and hardware:

  • Microsoft Azure
  • Custom electronics design
  • C++ firmware engineering
  • LoRa
  • Espressif ESP32
  • Atmel microcontrollers
  • 3D design & printing

JFDI’s Research & Development services

Custom research, design and development of process automation solutions for the physical world

Sensors, switches, actuators… physical world devices connected via the Internet – that’s the Internet of Things.