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Novel RFID Application Keeps Water Flowing

Spring Water On Tap, a water delivery service, is working with AT&T to check water levels in tanks using wireless sensors, small modems with unique IDs and a cellular network.
By Beth Bacheldor
Jul 03, 2008 Spring Water On Tap, an Atlanta-based startup company, is employing radio frequency identification to take water delivery service to a new level. The firm plans to install large tanks and employ wireless sensors coupled with tiny cellular modems, each carrying unique ID numbers, to track water levels in those tanks, thus ensuring that homes and businesses are never left high and dry.

AT&T, as part of its AT&T RFID Service, is providing the hardware, software and wireless network communications needed for the pilot, slated to begin in August. "This isn't your traditional RFID application," says Will Hurst, a senior mobile solutions architect with the telecommunications company. "AT&T takes a very broad holistic view of RFID. The traditional view is passive or active RFID tags that you put on assets to keep track of them. What we consider RFID is tracking a pack of gum in a retail facility all the way up to tracking ships on the ocean."

Percy Jones
The solution will leverage ultrasonic sensors affixed to 65-gallon water tanks that will hold the water and be placed at homes and, potentially, businesses. According to Hurst, the sensors—linked to cellular-based modems, also affixed to the tanks—transmit sonar signals down through the tank, measuring the return signal to discern water levels.

Each modem, manufactured by Siemens, has a unique ID number and is similar to modems used in cell phones. The modem sends the water level data and its ID number, via AT&T's GPRS wireless voice and data network, to a central server that holds all of the data, as well as the modems' ID numbers and the corresponding information linking those IDs to particular customers.

The modem can be programmed to transmit the data as often as desired. AT&T will host the server for Spring Water On Tap (which will have access to the data via a Web portal) at one of its data centers, though Hurst says companies can own and maintain the servers at their own sites. Monitoring water levels in real time, says Percy Jones, CEO of Spring Water On Tap, will enable the company to overcome some of the service problems inherent in water delivery services. Jones has worked in water bottling and delivery since 1986, and says the industry has always struggled with service.

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