Rapid technological advances are the norm in the 21st century. Entire industries have become obsolete in the wake of smart phones, digitization, online commerce and “remote everything.” We upgrade phones, cars, televisions and other household devices every few years, but in some parts of the world, the basic non-communicating meters at our homes have been there for decades.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Itron Idea Labs team learned – through a combination of interviews with utilities and consumers – that some utilities had begun to ask residents to help out by reading their own meters. In a small global survey conducted over the summer, we found that 76% of our respondents (130 of the 160 surveyed) had been asked to read their own meter — by mail, phone, text, email and a variety of other methods.

And as these consumers responded, some utility staff found themselves overwhelmed with a host of manual tasks required to make the submissions into a usable billing index. Emails had to be opened, images had to be viewed and stored. Reads and other identifying data had to be extracted from the image, verified, and entered into a spreadsheet for ingestion to billing. These manual tasks add labor and expense for utility customer service teams.

In the midst of this challenging time, the Itron Idea Labs team – in partnership with members of the Itron Bangalore team – developed a mobile app to automate read collection by consumers. The Consumer Collect app streamlines what could be a manual seven-step process into a single step by employing machine learning, optical character recognition, usage validation algorithms and accuracy verification at multiple levels. The consumer simply points their mobile device at the meter, and the Consumer Collect application captures the meter serial number and the read. The captured data is automatically transported to Itron’s system, where data management algorithms verify the accuracy and send the read on to the utility’s billing system. In essence, the Itron Idea Labs team has eliminated the costly and labor-intensive elements of the manual process where error and fraud can be introduced.

Early field trials with the Consumer Collect solution included experimentation with machine learning algorithms developed by our Itron team and a variety of third parties. Following the field trials where we evaluated multiple vendors, Itron Idea Labs decided to collaborate with Anyline for continued development activities. The beta solution is now available for utilities to pilot. With Consumer Collect, Itron Idea Labs makes it possible for utilities who still have a large install base of non-communicating meters to join the age of automation.

Shaun Brown
Product Manager, Itron Idea Labs
Shaun Brown joined Itron in 2015, coming from a background of technical writing, journalism, publishing and parenting. Upon joining Itron, initial projects included customer-facing documentation highlighting Itron solutions for municipalities and utilities. After a six-month fellowship with the Itron Idea Labs team in 2017, Shaun was invited to join Itron Idea Labs full-time to help with project management, process development and promotion.