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Wireless Sensors to Set Routes for Water Delivery

Sensors integrated with GPS/GPRS wireless communications devices will provide the data to automatically dispatch water delivery drivers to customer locations that need to be replenished. Spring Water on Tap, a startup water delivery firm, created the system to gain a competitive advantage.
Jun 30, 2008This article was originally published by RFID Update.

June 30, 2008—Spring Water on Tap, a drinking water delivery service scheduled to debut this week, will use wireless sensors and communications as a high-tech divining rod to help it find water tanks that need to be refilled. The tanks the Atlanta-based company delivers to customers will include an external sensor that monitors the water level. The sensor integrates with a communications device that will issue replenishment alerts over the AT&T wireless voice and data network.

"At AT&T we have a broader view of RFID technology than most others," Will Hurst, mobile solutions architect at AT&T, told RFID Update. "Instead of using a traditional passive tag and array of readers to monitor, we're using GPS- and GPRS-enabled devices integrated with a separate water level sensor."

Spring Water on Tap is a new company (so new in fact it's website is not yet online) that is counting on the technology to provide a competitive edge, according to Hurst. It will deliver water to residential customers in 50, 100 and 500 gallon tanks. The sensor and communicator will report water levels once or twice daily. Spring Water on Tap will use the data to plan its next-day deliveries as efficiently as possible.

"Trucks will be dispatched only where they're needed, rather than the traditional method of routing where the truck goes house to house on a regular schedule," said Hurst. "This is an eco-friendly operation. There are no plastic water bottles, and the wireless application makes deliveries more efficient so trucks aren't burning fuel."

Spring Water on Tap has ordered 1,000 of the sensor-communicator devices and plans to install them all in the Atlanta area by the end of the year, according to Hurst. The company has projected a need for 6,000 more devices for the cities it will service, which initially include Houston, Miami and New Orleans. Drivers will not carry handheld computers, which is often a starting point for route automation, but Hurst said Spring Water on Tap plans to deploy mobile computers in its next phase of automation.

AT&T worked closely with Spring Water on Tap to develop the application and analyze its return-on-investment (ROI) potential. Hurst said the ROI is favorable but Spring Water on Tap will not disclose details because it is counting on the system to create a competitive advantage. AT&T is providing the communications and system software as a hosted service.

"The core driver of our business is efficiency. We needed to develop a system to proactively and unobtrusively monitor the water levels of our customers' tanks in their homes," Spring Water On Tap CEO Percy Jones said in AT&T's announcement. "AT&T has enabled our company to accomplish our mission of providing customers with a seamless supply of fresh spring water in their homes at all times."

Spring Water on Tap's automation approach may seem somewhat novel, but Hurst said AT&T is seeing increased interest in integrated wireless sensor systems. As an example, he said a prospect in west Texas is considering using liquid sensors with wide area wireless communications capabilities to report when pumps operating in remote oil fields are running low on fuel. AT&T has also provided RFID and other wireless monitoring systems for schools and hospitals (see AT&T Steps into RFID Student-Tracking Minefield).

The technology available to supplement RF identification with information about the object being identified continues to grow. Examples include the enhancement to its passive RFID readers Alien announced last week that helps determine the speed and direction tags are moving, and provide other information (see Alien Adds Major Capabilities to Gen2 RFID Readers); Cisco's new wireless ecosystem that uses RFID for location tracking and supports integration with sensors to provide additional contextual data (see New System Marries RFID Location Data With Item Info); and a system to monitor pharmaceutical cold storage conditions and trigger replenishment that was released last fall (see New RFID Medical Cabinets Deployed at 50 Hospitals). Another example is the concrete used in the new World Trade Center in New York City, which includes embedded RFID tags with integrated temperature sensors that help builders monitor the curing process (see RFID Puts New World Trade Center on Solid Foundation).
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