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Meter Readers Could Be Made Obsolete By Radio-Controlled Gas Meters

April 18, 1985

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) _ Another familiar fixture of daily life, the meter reader, may vanish from the daily scene if plans to develop a high tech gas meter are successful.

Diversified Energies Inc., parent company of the Minneapolis-based Minnegasco gas company, has applied for a patent on a radio-controlled gas meter that would transmit a signal to a central computer. The computer would automatically calculate the customer’s bill.

Thus far, the device only exists in the form of what Charles Applequist, president of the DEI subsidiary working on the idea, described this week as a ″concept″ patent application and two hand-built prototypes.

If meter comes into use, it would eliminate Minnegasco’s practice of estimating bills and would mark the end of the familiar visitor who reads the meter and upsets the family dog.

Applequist said the receiver-transmitter would not be able to turn off someone’s gas or run up a customer’s bill.

Applequist also emphasized the company hasn’t tested the device in the field and that other utilities have developed similar products. However, he added that DEI believes it has ″something a bit more technically advanced″ than current products, none of which is commercially available.

The idea for such a device is not new, but its high cost has so far stumped the utility industry and kept it from the commercial market.

William Blair, a project manager at the Electric Power Research Institute of Palo Alto, Calif., said that organization has spent $10 million investigating the idea of automatic monitor and control devices for meters and other devices on utility systems. He said an additional $20 million has been budgeted, all of it contributed by the nation’s utilities.

The DEI device would be manufactured by E.F. Johnson Co., a radio communications company based in Waseca, Minn. DEI acquired the Johnson operation last month from Western Union. At that time, Bettie Gibson, a company representative, said DEI Energy Systems Inc., was close to patenting a radio-controlled energy management device, but declined to be specific.

She said a major reason for the E.F. Johnson acquisition was the company’s expertise in radio communications. It is a leading manufacturer of mobile telephones and cellular radios.

Applequist said Minnegasco’s 76 full-time and 20 part-time meter readers would not be laid off. He said those positions would be trimmed through attrition or the employees would be retrained to install or maintain the new device over the several years it would take to introduce it into its system.

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