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abc interview

  1. 131 Posts.

    Innovations 1 - 3 December 2002

    SMART&SECURE ELECTRICITY METER

    Well, electricity theft is a big problem worldwide, with electric utilities in the United States losing billions of dollars each year. In many other countries, the problem is even more severe with a substantial proportion of the electricity that is delivered not being billed. Electricity theft occurs in a number of ways, but a common method involves tampering with the electricity meter or devices within the meter box. Now a small Australian hi-tech company that specialises in a diverse range of security based products, has created an automated electricity meter monitor that sends a radio signal to a power supply company when it detects tampering and possible power theft. The prototype device has just been unveiled at a trade fair in the United States by Mikoh Corporation's chief scientist, Dr Peter Atherton. He's on the line from the United States and in Sydney is the company's Executive Director Ian Cameron. So Peter, how was the launch, what kind of reactions were you getting to the technology?

    ATHERTON : Well, we had a very positive reaction, in fact we had already done some market research before developing this in conjunction with Invensys Metering Systems and we had a very positive reaction. I think it's fair to say that all the utilities to whom we presented the technology regarded it as a very effective method of detecting, remotely detecting or even locally detecting tampering with the meter or the meter box.

    BLANCH : Now you've been building the device at the company's complex in Virginia, Mikoh's technology is something you call "Smart & Secure" and you've integrated this into the international company's solid state residential electricity meter, yes?

    ATHERTON : Yes that's correct.

    BLANCH : So what is Smart & Secure?

    ATHERTON : Well, Smart & Secure is what's called a radio frequency identification technology and what that means is that it uses self-adhesive labels and seals which have electronics bedded in them and this electronics allows a label or a seal to store information which can be read or changed from a distance using radio frequency techniques and what's special about Smart & Secure is that we have, as the name suggests, we've made it secure so that if a Smart & Secure label is applied to something and is later on lifted or moved to another item, it will detect that and the next time it's read, it will inform the reading device that it's been tampered with.

    BLANCH : Does it give the address where the meter tampering's taken place and send that back the moment something's happened, is that what's happening with it?

    ATHERTON : Well, in this case it will because the seals will be recorded with a unique code that really ties them to the meter, so the meter itself will monitor a seal which is on the outside of the meter and wraps around the meter box and if that seal is tampered with the meter will then alert the utility that that tampering has occurred.

    BLANCH : And the smartness has come in from your writing this particular information that goes on to the seal part, is that it?

    ATHERTON : Well, the smart part is the fact that the seal can store information electronically, there's a small chip that's embedded in the seal and that information can be changed, so for example, when a seal is applied to a meter the technician who applies the seal can record information in it that relates to that meter. It might be a unique meter code for example, or the time and date that the seal was applied, so that's the smart part of it and the secure part, as I mentioned, is the fact that the seal will detect when it's been tampered with and will alert the reading device that it's been tampered with.

    BLANCH : So Ian, what are the terms of your collaboration with this international company Invensys Metering Systems?

    CAMERON : Well, we have been working with Invensys for a period of three to four months now and we've been working with both their marketing group and their technology group in establishing exactly how this product can be integrated and marketed to the utilities -- being their customers. The culmination of the efforts over the last few months was to build a prototype of this system and present it to the conference in Salt Lake City and from there, I believe they have a good deal of confidence in the ability of the product to perform and we're presently working with them to put together an agreement that will further this development and underpin our joint representations to their customers.

    BLANCH : Now did they find you or did you find them?

    CAMERON : No we found them.

    BLANCH : Now can this technology apply to other types of meters other than the residential electricity meter?

    CAMERON : Peter you can probably expand a little bit on this, but it can be applied to both water and power meters and gas meters, it's a question of just style and the integration, depending on the installation.

    ATHERTON : One point I would make is that Invensys is actually very strong in both gas and water meters as well as electricity meters and they have a system that they've developed called the Gateway System and through using this system it's possible with a single radio frequency bridge to monitor all three types of meters, so one of the benefits that we saw in working with Invensys was the fact that it would get us from electricity meters which is probably the most high profile problem area for theft, it would quickly get us from electricity into gas and water where the problem of theft is also very substantial.

    BLANCH : Well, I last spoke to you Peter in 1996 about one of Mikoh's products, that was called Counterfoil, has Smart & Secure grown from that technology, what's the, you know, story of the development of Smart & Secure?

    ATHERTON : Well, Smart & Secure grew out of the requirements I guess, that also caused Counterfoil to be developed. When I first came over to the States we were focused on selling Counterfoil based products to the US Government and we quickly realised that they also wanted the ability to store and change information in the seals and in fact a number of agencies here specifically asked us to incorporate radio frequency techniques into our seals. So we did that, but we knew that in order for the product to be useful we would have to make it secure, so we spent a lot of time developing the security techniques to make the radio frequency portion acceptable in the high security markets that we're now addressing.

    BLANCH : Now Peter, this smart labelling system is something that the Americans are interested in as a counter terrorism measure, they're currently testing the technology, that's correct?

    ATHERTON : That's correct.

    BLANCH : So how do they envisage using the system?

    ATHERTON : Well, there are different ways in which it can be used as a counter terrorism technique, I mean for example we are involved at the moment in pilot programs for securing containers - container security is one of the hottest topics over here at the moment as far as counter terrorism is concerned as you're probably aware. We're also involved in securing various types of electronic equipment that different government agencies feel could be compromised by terrorists in an attempt to gain access to information systems. We're also involved in securing locations and securing vehicles and these also have an anti-terrorism component or a counter terrorism component, so there are many and varied ways in which the technology can be used to counter not only criminal activities, but in particular terrorist activities.

    BLANCH : How competitive is the market, are there other companies that they're testing their technologies?

    ATHERTON : Well, in terms of the pilots that we're involved in we know that we are the only technology being piloted and the reason for that really is that this technology, Smart & Secure, grew out of a requirement that was expressed to us by several government agencies over here, so we developed it, not in the vacuum, but rather as a response to a need and we were able to craft it to meet the requirements of the agencies with whom we were dealing when they first put that requirement to us, so in many respects we've been very fortunate to be able to work with customers as we develop the technology and make sure that it meets their requirements.

    BLANCH : So walk us through some of the technology - if I come along and try to prise this label off and get into the package or the document or whatever it is, what then happens with the technology?

    ATHERTON : Well, to the person doing the tampering nothing appears to happen. In fact, the seals are designed in such a way that you can tamper them and put them back down and you may never be aware that the seal has even been disturbed, but either a person or a system which is set up to monitor that seal will be able to determine that it's been tampered with and they can also retrieve the information, even after it's been tampered they can still retrieve the information that's in that seal. So for example, courier pouches, which is an application that we're working with some agencies on and they have a requirement there to be able to secure the pouch, but they want to know if someone's gained entry to it and they still want to be able to retrieve the information that pertains to that pouch which might be some, you know, classified information about the contents of the pouch or who it was intended for or who it came from, so to the person doing the tampering nothing appears to happen, but to the people doing the monitoring they're able to determine very reliably whether or not tampering has occurred.

    BLANCH : Ian your selling systems to Russia and Italy to print gaming tickets, more on that.

    CAMERON : Well, that's a totally different technology that last year Mikoh acquired a company or a technology from a company in Melbourne which is a digital inkjet imaging technology which is quite unique and we recently sold some equipment with this imaging software to a company in Italy who integrated it into a very large printing press which was finally installed in St Petersburg in Russia at one of the government printing offices there and that particular printing press - one of the products that is printed on on that press are gaming tickets. And our system has the ability to maintain a high level of integrity in managing database information and transmitting it through our wide print head which has been developed and is unique in the world in terms of the way it functions, so for the price performance that the customer saw, our equipment was chosen above a lot of other international companies to be integrated into this printing press and it was a very successful installation and is currently printing lottery tickets. We have other installations also in Italy that also are being applied to lottery ticket production in that country.

    BLANCH : Well, Mikoh obviously has a wide range, as we said a diverse range of security based technology and it's just on six years since Innovations featured Counterfoil as I mentioned, has it been a long five/six year period, I mean is this where you expected to be or have you exceeded your goals?

    ATHERTON: Well, it's hard to know how to answer a question along those lines. I mean did we expect to be here, I guess not because we didn't expect for example to be, at that stage, we didn't expect to be opening an office in the US or developing a new technology, so I think it's fair to say that we've taken some turns that we wouldn't have foreseen back then, but having done that, I think it's opened up new vistas for the company and really got us into markets that are much more robust and much more commercially attractive than the markets that we were in before, so in that sense I think we've come a long way in that time.

    BLANCH : Dr Peter Atherton, CEO of Mikoh Corporation in the United States and Ian Cameron, Executive Director of the company here in Australia talking about some reassuring security technology that has their company focused very much on a worldwide market. And next, how Australian scientists are part of a research project to produce 3-D models of people's faces.


 
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