Intelligent Gas Meter Detects Wide Variety of Conditions

The gas meter application utilizing an embedded system promises to become a widely used integrated solution. These will make use of integrated microcontroller units (MCUs). I recently visited a tradeshow and saw an intelligent gas meter embedded system (Figure 1). This device has applications in controlling gas flow (industrial, commercial, and medical applications), controlling air flow (HVAC), and detecting dangerous concentrations of toxic or explosive gases (mining and firefighting).

Figure 1

Gas meter system using a low-power MCU as core.

Gas meter system using a low-power MCU as core.

An engineer in charge of the development of the intelligent gas demo board told me about the board's basic architecture. It is interfaced with an OMRON gas sensor and can read/write and display various parameters on the LCD showing gas concentration values. It can indicate when the values reach dangerous levels. The demo board also manages maximum demand calculation and communication with dual interface EEPROM (RF and I2 C interface). Also, the demo board supports a sub-GHz RF module.

The WMBUS protocol stack is running on the low-power STM32L MCU that is available on the board. This allows management of the gas concentration data. Moreover, it's possible to transmit the data via the communication module in wireless mode. In actual use, the system could be inserted in a box with suitable ports to permit gas influx. Figure 2 shows a prototype version — built in a clear box for demonstration purposes.

Figure 2

Gas meter system overview.

Gas meter system overview.

The demo board also has provision for controlling a motorized gas valve with motor drive circuitry. This interesting solution (Figure 3) was presented along with the gas meter system.

Figure 3

A motor control application.

A motor control application.

In this demo setup, the motor drivers that manage the air pressure in the tubes are driven by an MCU (once again, the STM32L). An ultrasonic sensor/transducer senses the height of a floating ball, and the MCU turns on the corresponding row of LEDs, which can be seen in Figure 3.

Connectors for external seismic detectors are provided on the demo boards for future use. In practice, you would attach MEMS accelerometers. You could then monitor and sense vibrations indicative of an earthquake and shut off the appropriate gas valves.

By working together, the two companies have created an IT-based intelligent metering device. This new technology would significantly contribute to energy savings when used as part of an HVAC system. Here's a look at the individual pieces and the completed assembly.

The intelligent gas meter system is an interesting example of electronic control of the air quality in a wide environment where this control is required. This is a very promising idea for big companies that must manage things like the air flow in their production facilities. What do you think of this intelligent meter gas control? Do you think it provides a useful solution for monitoring dangerous gases in industrial or commercial areas and controlling air flow? What do you think of the seismic detector option?

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13 comments on “Intelligent Gas Meter Detects Wide Variety of Conditions

  1. Victor Lorenzo
    December 10, 2013

    @Paolo, In a previous project (some years ago) I integrated a Hitachi InkJet printer that uses a combination of Acethone+Butanone as ink solvent. As this solvent produces severe effects when inhaled we needed to install a local ventilation+air extraction system. This kind of application would benefit (in terms of safety) from using this type of sensors.

  2. Victor Lorenzo
    December 10, 2013

    @Paolo, Perhaps you could give us some more details. If it is a demo kit, what is the reference for the kit? What is the type of sensor used and its operation principle? What kind of gases it can detect/meassure? Are closed loop the motor controllers?…Thanks

  3. Davidled
    December 10, 2013

    I think that the board uses the Antenna in order to transmit and receive data as shown in the Figure 1. I wonder what type communication is used to send data to the end point. More reference would be beneficial for getting to communication in the board.

  4. eafpres
    December 11, 2013

    @DaeJ–the antenna is connected to the SMA connector on the ST Micro wireless module board.  Since it is stated in the article as “sub GHz” I think it is a particular family of ST Micro RFICs you can find here.

    FYI for many wireless module demo boards the small antenna on SMA connector is used.  Sometimes it is used as is in the field but many times a better antenna is used, especially if the wireless connection distance is very long.

  5. eafpres
    December 11, 2013

    Hi Paolo–this type of application is in my view where a lot of action is occurring in the market.  Not specifically gas measurement, but the integration of sensor, with analog electronics to get and condition the signal, plus integration of communication electronics to get to a network.  More and more as well include wireless as an option or the main communication method.

    I have commented before that the interesting thing about the Internet of Things (IoT) is that it requires sensors everywhere, and every sensor requires some analog to convert the raw signal into something useful, and requires some way to send that information off to a network or database.  So I view IoT as a strong driver for analog electronics.  Do you see the same thing?

  6. etnapowers
    December 11, 2013

    Victor, this system has been developed just for this scope: to detect and monitor the presence of dangerous gas concentration values. I agree with you on the applications that utilize dangerous gas will benefit from a remote control of the gas concentration values. 

  7. etnapowers
    December 11, 2013

    Hi Victor: you're welcome, thank you for your questions. Here the answers:

    • Yes it's a demo kit, reference number STEVAL-IPG001V1
    • The sensor is a gas sensor that is interfaced with microcontroller through I2C Bus . The sensor sends the current gas flow rate to the microcontroller. When a high delta occurred, a high delta interrupt is sent through an interrupt pin of gas sensor.
    • It can detect gases dangerous when inhaled for example Acetone, Butanone, Etilene, Propinene
    • Yes the motor controllers are inserted in closed loops and the feedback signal is a reference for the microcontroller, which keeps the control of the whole system.
  8. Victor Lorenzo
    December 11, 2013

    @etnapowers, “STEVAL-IPG001V1 “, didn't find it in ST, DigiKey, Farnell, RS… only references to it in google about some ST Android appplication that uses NFC for connecting to it.

    Thanks anyway. BR -Victor

  9. etnapowers
    December 11, 2013

    Hi Blaine, I totally agree with you on this point. This type of application, which connects sensors to the microcontrollers and utilizes a remote data management, is really promising. I think that an IOT approach is really useful to create a safer world where people is connected and the people safety is enhanced.

  10. etnapowers
    December 11, 2013

    @Victor: I have the document in pdf format, this is the cut & paste of the introduction:


    STEVAL-IPG001V1, GAS Meter Demo using STM32L Introduction

    This document describes the functioning of a Gas Meter Demo based on OMRON Gas sensor and STM32L152VBT6 Ultra Low Power Microcontroller. The demonstration board STEVAL-IPG001V1 is fully functional Gas Meter Demo. Board is interfaced with OMRON Gas Sensor and able to read/write and display various parameters  on LCD e.g. configuration parameters, maintenance parameters, total consumption parameters, tariff-wise consumptions, 4 types of tampers etc. Board also manages maximum demand (MD) calculation and communication with dual interface EEPROM (RF and I2C interface). SPIRIT-RF Sub GHz module is also supported by the board and WMBUS protocol stack is running on STM32L Microcontroller available on board. Demonstration board also has provision of controlling gas valve by driving a motor. Connectors for external seismic detector, IrDA, STRNFC module are available for future use. Similarly footprints for External RTC, temperature sensor, USB connector are also available on the board.

    The meter specifications are:
    •    Nominal operating voltage from Battery: 3.3 to 3.6V.
    •    External power supply source USB/Wall adapter (5V)
    •    Low power mode current consumption (Standalone mode)  : 15-20 uA
    •    I2C communication interfacing with OMRON Gas sensor.
    •    Dual Interface EEPROM support.
    •    Maximum gas flow rate: 6.000 m3/hr
    •    Minimum gas flow rate: 0.000 m3/hr
    •    No. of Tampers supported: 4
    •    Maximum Tariff scheduling supported: 4 (with minimum time difference between every tariff is 1 Hr in ascending order).
    •    WMBUS stack running on STM32L Microcontroller available on board.
    •    Supports Sub GHz SRD bands: 169 MHz (N mode), 868 MHz (S Mode).
    •    A  very  low-power  and  High  Performance  RF  transceiver  “SPIRIT1”  used  for  wireless communication.
    •    Windows  application  available  to  configure WMBUS  parameters  at  concentrator  side  and reading various metering data received from the Gas Meter.
    •    Android application available for accessing various parameters of Meter from dual interface EEPROM using Smartphone through NFC.


    I hope this helps.


    Best Regards



  11. Davidled
    December 11, 2013

    When checking website, they provides transceiver information. But, there is no protocol information how to send and receive the data. It is very good information for sub-GHz RF transceiver to install in the PCB.      

  12. eafpres
    December 12, 2013

    @DaeJ–a lot of this sub GHz wireless is so-callled proprietary protocol–meaning you must use the same on both ends of the link.  In those cases you don't get many details about the protocol.

  13. Davidled
    December 12, 2013

    ->  A  very  low-power  and  High  Performance  RF  transceiver  “SPIRIT1”  used  for  wireless communication.

    The detail description would be helpful to overview demo tool. I wonder how far RF transceiver would be communicated to other end point. I think that the distance might be depending on amplifier related to transceiver on the board.

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