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Title:
PREPAID WATER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM AND METHOD
Document Type and Number:
WIPO Patent Application WO/2019/220332
Kind Code:
A1
Abstract:
A prepaid water management system is disclosed, comprising a smart valve controller fitted to a water carrying conduit, the smart valve controller accommodating a valve to control the flow of water through the conduit and including a first wireless communications module; a water meter to measure the water flow volume through the water carrying conduit, the water meter including a second wireless communications module; and a user interface to allow a user to view data regarding water use and to enter purchased water credits, the user interface including a third wireless communications module, thereby allowing the smart valve controller to communicate with both the water meter and the user interface wirelessly. The smart valve controller comprises a control unit to control the valve and a credit monitoring module that updates the water credit available to the user.

Inventors:
GIBSON RYAN (ZA)
BREYTENBACH GERHARD MAGNUS (ZA)
DE KOCK WOUTER (ZA)
JOUBERT JAN GERHARDUS (ZA)
Application Number:
PCT/IB2019/053975
Publication Date:
November 21, 2019
Filing Date:
May 14, 2019
Export Citation:
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Assignee:
MUCHEM LTD (MU)
GIBSON RYAN (ZA)
International Classes:
G07F15/06; G01D4/00; G01F3/00; G07F7/08
Foreign References:
GB2438888A2007-12-12
Other References:
ANONYMOUS: "Prepaid Meter System", 15 March 2017 (2017-03-15), XP055653220, Retrieved from the Internet [retrieved on 20191216]
Attorney, Agent or Firm:
FIANDEIRO, João Achada (ZA)
Download PDF:
Claims:
CLAIMS

1. A prepaid water management system comprising: a smart valve controller fitted to a water carrying conduit, the smart valve controller accommodating a valve to control the flow of water through the conduit and including a first wireless communications module; a water meter to measure the water flow volume through the water carrying conduit, the water meter including a second wireless communications module; and a user interface to allow a user to view data regarding water use and to enter purchased water credits, the user interface including a third wireless communications module, thereby allowing the smart valve controller to communicate with both the water meter and the user interface wirelessly.

2. The prepaid water management system of claim 1 , wherein the smart valve controller comprises a control unit to control the valve and a credit monitoring module that updates the water credit available to the user, so that if there is sufficient credit, the control unit opens the valve to allow the user access to water and, conversely, if there is insufficient credit, the control unit operates the valve to close the water supply.

3. The prepaid water management system of claim 2, wherein the first wireless communications module of the smart valve controller is arranged to transmit the credit value of the water credit available to the user to the third wireless communications module of the user interface.

4. The prepaid water management system of claim 2, wherein the first smart valve controller is fitted within a housing, the housing comprising a controller chamber to accommodate the smart valve controller and the valve, and an adjacent battery chamber to accommodate batteries to power the controller and the valve.

5. The prepaid water management system of claim 1 , wherein the user interface comprises a keypad and a display, the user interface being arranged to provide regular updated information on the current water meter reading, water consumption, available credit and alarms and warnings.

6. The prepaid water management system of claim 5, wherein the user interface is arranged to receive a token input, corresponding to a water credit, with the token being transmitted securely to the first wireless communication module and validated by the smart valve controller.

7. The prepaid water management system of claim 1 , wherein the third wireless communications module of the user interface is arranged to regularly receive volume data from the second communications module of the water meter.

8. The prepaid water management system of claim 7, wherein the first wireless communications module of the smart valve controller is also arranged to periodically, and less frequently than the user interface, volume data from the second communications module of the water meter.

9. The prepaid water management system of claim 1 , wherein the third wireless communications module of the user interface is also arranged to receive status data from the first communications module of the smart valve controller.

10. A smart valve controller for a prepaid water management system, the smart valve controller being fitted to a water carrying conduit, the smart valve controller comprising: a valve to control the flow of water through the conduit; a first wireless communications module to communicate with both a water meter that measures the water flow volume through the water carrying conduit and a user interface to allow a user to view data regarding water use and to enter purchased water credits; a control unit to control the valve; and a credit monitoring module that updates the water credit available to the user, so that if there is sufficient credit, the control unit opens the valve to allow the user access to water. 1 1. The smart valve controller of claim 10, wherein the first wireless communications module of the smart valve controller is arranged to transmit the credit value of the water credit available to the user to the user interface.

12. The smart valve controller of claim 10, wherein the smart valve controller is fitted within a housing, the housing comprising a controller chamber to accommodate the controller and the valve, and an adjacent battery chamber to accommodate batteries to power the controller and the valve.

Description:
PREPAID WATER MANAGEMENT SYSTEM AND METHOD

FIELD OF THE INVENTION

THIS INVENTION relates to a prepaid water management system and method.

BACKGROUND OF INVENTION

There are many different types of prepaid water management systems, and in broad terms include a keypad/display, a valve of sorts to control water supply and a water meter to measure water usage. However, these are all characterized by being physically connected or wired together. This of course has several shortcomings, including cost, being prone to damage and being difficult to maintain and/or upgrade.

The aim of the present invention is to address these shortcomings.

SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION

According to a first aspect of the invention there is provided a prepaid water management system comprising: a smart valve controller fitted to a water carrying conduit, the smart valve controller accommodating a valve to control the flow of water through the conduit and including a first wireless communications module; a water meter to measure the water flow volume through the water carrying conduit, the water meter including a second wireless communications module; and a user interface to allow a user to view data regarding water use and to enter purchased water credits, the user interface including a third wireless communications module, thereby allowing the smart valve controller to communicate with both the water meter and the user interface wirelessly. In an embodiment, the smart valve controller comprises a control unit to control the valve and a credit monitoring module that updates the water credit available to the user. If there is sufficient credit, the control unit opens the valve (by sending a suitable control signal) to allow the user access to water; conversely, if there is insufficient credit, the control unit operates the valve to close the water supply.

In an embodiment, the first wireless communications module of the smart valve controller is arranged to transmit the credit value of the water credit available to the user to the third wireless communications module of the user interface.

In an embodiment, the smart valve controller is fitted within a housing, the housing comprising a controller chamber to accommodate the controller and the valve, and an adjacent battery chamber to accommodate batteries to power the controller and the valve.

In an embodiment, the water meter has a 16-year battery life, has an IP 68 rating, is submersible and can store up to 420 days of daily consumption values.

In an embodiment, the user interface comprises a keypad and an LCD display. The user interface is used to provide regular updated information on the current water meter reading, water consumption, available credit and alarms and warnings.

In an embodiment, the user interface is arranged to receive a token input, corresponding to a water credit. The token is transmitted securely to the first wireless communication module and validated. The relevant token data is securely transmitted back to the third communication module to inform the user that the token was received and validated/rejected/used before/etc.

In an embodiment, the third wireless communications module of the user interface is also arranged to receive volume data every predetermined number of seconds from the second communications module of the water meter. In parallel, the first wireless communications module of the smart valve controller is also arranged to receive volume data every predetermined number of minutes from the second communications module of the water meter.

In addition, the third wireless communications module of the user interface is also arranged to receive status data from the first communications module of the smart valve controller.

According to a second aspect of the invention there is provided a smart valve controller for a prepaid water management system, the smart valve controller being fitted to a water carrying conduit, the smart valve controller comprising: a valve to control the flow of water through the conduit; a first wireless communications module to communicate with both a water meter that measures the water flow volume through the water carrying conduit and a user interface to allow a user to view data regarding water use and to enter purchased water credits; a control unit to control the valve; and a credit monitoring module that updates the water credit available to the user, so that if there is sufficient credit, the control unit opens the valve to allow the user access to water.

In an embodiment, the first wireless communications module of the smart valve controller is arranged to transmit the credit value of the water credit available to the user to the user interface.

In an embodiment, the smart valve controller is fitted within a housing, the housing comprising a controller chamber to accommodate the controller and the valve, and an adjacent battery chamber to accommodate batteries to power the controller and the valve. According to a third aspect of the invention there is provided a method of operating a prepaid water management system, as defined above.

BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS

The invention will now be further described, by way of example, with reference to the accompanying diagrammatic drawings. In the drawings:

Figure 1 shows a high-level block diagram of a prepaid water management system according to the invention;

Figure 2 shows a perspective view of a housing for a smart valve controller used in the system shown in Figure 1 ;

Figure 3 shows a high-level schematic flow chart of the overall process logic used in the system shown in Figure 1 ; and

Figure 4 shows the flow of messages between the various components of the system shown in Figure 1 , in use.

DETAILED DESCRIPTION OF AN EXAMPLE EMBODIMENT

The following description of the invention is provided as an enabling teaching of the invention. Those skilled in the relevant art will recognize that many changes can be made to the embodiment described, while still attaining the beneficial results of the present invention. It will also be apparent that some of the desired benefits of the present invention can be attained by selecting some of the features of the present invention without utilizing other features. Accordingly, those skilled in the art will recognize that modifications and adaptations to the present invention are possible and can even be desirable in certain circumstances, and are a part of the present invention. Thus, the following description is provided as illustrative of the principles of the present invention and not a limitation thereof. Referring first to Figure 1 , the present invention provides a prepaid water management system 10 comprising a smart valve controller 12 fitted to a water carrying conduit (not shown). The smart valve controller 12 accommodates a motorized ball valve 14 to control the flow of water through the conduit and includes a first wireless communications module 16.

The system 10 further includes an ultrasonic water meter 18 to measure the water flow volume through the water carrying conduit, the water meter 18 including a second wireless communications module 20.

The system 10 further includes a user interface 22 to allow a user to view data regarding water use and to enter purchased water credits. The user interface 22 includes a third wireless communications module 24, thereby allowing the smart valve controller 12 to communicate with both the water meter 18 and the user interface 22, to receive and transmit data and instructions wirelessly (and typically encrypted wireless M-Bus communication). In the system 10 of the present invention, there is thus no need for external wiring.

The smart valve controller 12 is the main controller of the system 10. The user interface 22 does not instruct the smart valve controller 12 to close; the smart valve controller 12 informs the user interface 22 that it is closed or open and of available credits. In this regard, the smart valve controller 12 houses all business rules (i.e. free allocation per month, when to shut off and open etc., and has its own tamper detection). The smart valve controller 12 controls the water, with the user interface 22 and the water meter 18 adopting slave roles.

In an embodiment, the smart valve controller 12 comprises a control unit 26 to control the valve 14 and a credit monitoring module 28 that updates the water credit available to the user. If there is sufficient credit, the control unit 26 opens the valve 14, using a suitable control signal, to allow the user access to water; conversely, if there is insufficient credit, the control unit 26 operates the valve 14 to close the water supply. The extent to which the valve 14 is opened/closed can be varied or throttled, and this is typically set when the controller 12 is programmed when manufactured/assembled. For example, it may be set at any amount between 0 (i.e. fully closed) to 100 (i.e. fully opened) e.g. a setting of 45 equates to a flow of 45% of maximum flow. The valve 14 does not require any continuous input of any sort to stay in the preset position.

The credit monitoring module 28 typically takes the form of a Standard Transfer Specification (STS) module, which is relatively well known in the art. The credit monitoring module 28 and the control unit 26 communicate and manage the token value between them, as indicated by arrows 30 and 32.

In an embodiment, the first wireless communications module 16 of the smart valve controller 12 is arranged to transmit the credit value (and related cut-off value, status data etc.) of the water credit available to the user to the third wireless communications module 24 of the user interface 22 (as indicated by arrow 34).

In one version, the smart valve controller 12 is fitted within a housing 36 of the type shown in Figure 2. The housing 36 comprises a controller chamber 38 to accommodate the control unit 26 and the valve 14, and an adjacent battery chamber 40 to accommodate batteries (typically having at least a 5-year lifespan) to power the controller 12. The housing 36 is made from a plastic material, and has an IP 6X rating.

In another version, the smart valve controller 12 and the water meter 18 may all be accommodated within a single housing.

Going back to Figure 1 , advantageously, the smart valve controller 12 has an automatic shut-off when it (or the water meter 18) detects any form of tampering; in such a case, the valve 14 is arranged to close automatically. A token is needed to open the valve 14, namely a Tamper clear token (as set out in the STS); tamper conditions must be cleared first, failing which the tamper warning will simply continue.

In addition, the controller 12 has a configurable monthly free consumption allocation e.g. 6 cubic metres of free water per minute/days/month, but has a default setting of zero free water. In an embodiment, the water meter 18 has a 16-year battery life, has an IP 68 rating, is submersible and can store up to 420 days of daily consumption values. The water meter 18 also possesses the following features: warnings and alarms, leak detection, burst detection, dry detection, reverse flow detection (if installed incorrectly) and tamper detection.

The user interface 22 comprises a keypad 42 (to input token data) and an LCD display 44 (to display information, statistics, alarm etc.). The user interface 22 is used to provide regular updated information on the current water meter reading, water consumption, available credit and alarms and warnings. The user interface 22 also has the following features: leak detection, excessive usage, tamper detection, dry detection, reverse flow detection and low battery warning in respect of the smart valve controller.

In an embodiment, the user interface 22 is arranged to receive an STS token input 46, corresponding to a water credit, as indicated by arrow 48. Once successfully entered, the third wireless communications module 24 of the user interface 22 communicates the relevant token data to the first communications module 16 of the smart valve controller 12, as indicated by arrow 50. Validation of the token is done by the STS credit monitoring module 28 of the smart valve controller 12 and sends a value back to the user interface 22.

In an embodiment, the third wireless communications 24 module of the user interface 22 is also arranged to receive volume data every predetermined number of seconds (16 seconds, for example) from the second communications module 20 of the water meter 18, as indicated by arrow 52. In parallel, the first wireless communications module 16 of the smart valve controller 12 is also arranged to receive volume data every predetermined number of minutes (15 minutes, for example) from the second communications module 20 of the water meter 18, as indicated by arrow 54.

In use, and with reference to Figure 3, from an overall process logic perspective, when the valve is on (block 100), the current water reading is obtained (block 102), and the cut-off value is updated to include the new token value (block 104). The process then checks to see whether a new token is available (block 106), and if so, it determines whether the current reading matches or is above the cut-off value (block 108). If so, the valve is closed (block 1 10); if not, the valve remains open (block 100). In addition, if any tampering is detected (block 1 12), the valve is also automatically closed (block 1 10).

Turning now to Figure 4, the messages sent between the smart valve controller, the water meter and the user interface will now be described in more detail, starting at the assembly of the components at the factory.

After all the components have been assembled in the factory, the smart valve controller must be programmed with the latest firmware, and then paired with the water meter and the user interface, typically using NFC. Once paired, the smart valve controller is set to sleep mode and communicates to the user interface that a sleep command has been issued. The user interface will wake up when the user enters a token (block 60). Once the user interface is powered up, the smart valve controller only listens in sniff mode every 60 minutes for the paired user interface.

When the smart valve controller hears the user interface, it sets itself to listen every 5 minutes, with these 5-minute intervals lasting for 1 hour. Within this hour, a token must be entered into the user interface and successfully sent to the smart valve controller (blocks 62 and 64). If no token is received, the smart valve controller will go to sleep again, listening every hour. After a successful token input, the smart valve controller will be adjusted to, for example, 15-minute listening intervals (but this is of course fully configurable). The successful token gets decoded in the chip onboard the smart valve controller (block 66). The new cut-off value is stored in the smart valve controller (block 68) and sent back to the user interface (blocks 70 and 72). The user interface stores the new value and displays it on the LCD (block 74).

During normal use, the water meter transmits meter data every 16 seconds, as indicated by blocks 76 and 78. The user interface accordingly listens every 16 seconds to the water meter, displays the reading and does various calculations, as indicated by blocks 80 and 82. The smart valve controller listens every 15 minutes for a maximum duration of 17 seconds to the water meter, then returns to a low power sleep. If the smart valve controller hears the water meter after 3 seconds, for example, it does not keep listening for the full 17 seconds. After water meter data is received, the smart valve controller will receive for 50 ms and thereafter return to sleep.

When a token is entered (block 60), the user interface transmits every time, typically 30 ms after the water meter data was received. Because the smart valve controller is still listening 50 ms after the water meter signal was received, it will receive the token code and decode it, as described above. The smart valve controller then sends the new cut-off value back to the user interface i.e. block 72, as described above. The user interface receives the new cut-off and sends an acknowledgment back to the smart valve controller.

Once the smart valve controller determines that the value from the water meter is equal or greater than the determined cut-off value, it sends a status update to the user interface (block 84). The user interface receives the status update (block 86) and updates the cut-off value (block 88). Although not shown, the smart valve controller simultaneously pulses the valve to close. The user interface will determine from the calculations that the water is now shut and will display a suitable message on the LCD screen.

If the water meter determines an alarm condition, including leak, burst, tamper, dry or reverse, it wirelessly conveys an alarm message for display on the user interface. Significantly, the smart valve controller has configurable settings, depending on the various alarm conditions, as follows:

Leak:

Default: no action

Time configurable shutoff in hours (1 -24 hours)

- 0 hours = no action

- 5 hours = shut off after 5 hours. Burst:

Default: no action

Time configurable shutoff in hours (1 -24 hours)

- 0 hours = no action

- 5 hours = shut off after 5 hours.

Tamper:

Then water meter must shut off immediately

Dry and Reverse:

Take no action.

If the user interface fails, the smart valve controller will determine this and close the valve.

If the smart valve controller fails, which is typically determined by the user interface not successfully sending data to the smart valve controller (e.g. within 30 minutes i.e. 2 cycles), the user interface will trigger an alarm and notify the user of the failure.

If the water meter fails, the user interface will trigger an alarm and notify the user of the failure. The smart valve controller is typically arranged to close the valve to cut off water supply if no new reading is received from the water meter after 5 days.

Regarding the replacement of the batteries within the smart valve controller, low battery warnings would first be sent wirelessly from the smart valve controller to the user interface. Upon removal of the old batteries, the smart valve controller gets placed in a shutoff mode, and upon the insertion of the new batteries, the smart valve controller logs the battery replacement date and time. During this time, the valve remains closed. The battery includes a new token that the user must enter on the user interface to clear the smart valve controller from the battery replacement mode.

Regarding communication failure in general, the system of the present invention is designed so that the smart valve controller and the water meter can operate without communication from the user interface, but that the cut-off value is reached, the smart valve controller will cut-off water.

In the case of a user interface communication failure, the cut-off value resides in the smart valve controller and so will close the valve when the cut-off value is reached. The user interface will alert the user if communication with the water meter has been lost. The user interface will retry communication every 8 seconds from the water meter, and will receive and update readings once communications is established. The user interface will send any unsent tokens to the smart valve controller and get an updated cut-off reading if available.

In the case of smart valve controller communication failure, after the smart valve controller has not heard the water meter for 4 cycles (i.e. 1 hour) the smart valve controller sends a single warning to the user interface informing it that communication has failed between the smart valve controller and the water meter. The smart valve controller will cut-off water after no new reading is received from the water meter after 5 days. When the user interface has information that should have been sent to the smart valve controller for longer than 30 minutes without acknowledgment (i.e. corresponding to 2 receive-transmit cycles), the user interface will alarm and notify the user of a communication failure.

In the case of a water meter communication failure, the user interface will alarm and notify the user of a failure. The alarm will re-occur every day at 12pm until cleared. The smart valve controller will cut-off water after no new reading is received from the water meter after 5 days.

The present invention has several benefits, as follows:

For the user: the user will always know his/her consumption, available credit and water meter reading. The top-up procedure is easy, convenient and familiar. The range of alarms/warnings is extensive and all encompassing. For the billing agent,

local authority and

municipality: there is a configurable monthly free consumption allocation, an on-board 420-day consumption logger retrievable from the water meter, accurate pre-paid revenue collection, control and monitoring, secure encrypted wireless communication.

In addition, various add-on products and services are envisaged, including online portals and apps.