April 1996 € Volume 23 € Number 2

Cutting Edge

By David Blanchard

PG&E Provides Better Real-Time Service

Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) (San Francisco, Calif.), a public utility, has implemented a real-time information and control system to automate the distribution of electricity to its customers. The system, called RTscada (for real-time supervisory control and data acquisition), will allow PG&E to offer customers flexible energy plans that cater to specific individual needs, similar to the custom calling plans provided by telephone companies. The system was developed for PG&E by DC Systems (Pleasanton, Calif.), a developer of advanced real-time applications for the electric and gas utilities industry.

DC Systems set out to develop such an expert system that can efficiently process and display real-time data in a meaningful way for the operators of a complex system, such as an electric distribution network. One key facet of the RTscada expert system is its ability to take data from any source without prejudice. Over the next five years, the amount of field equipment that can provide data to the utility will triple. Data will be acquired throughout the distribution system, right down to the customer site, providing an enhanced capability to localize service.

Thanks to RTscada, PG&E will be able to monitor and correct operational problems at specific customer sites. This will increase the reliability of the energy distribution system and provide a higher level of service to customers by reducing outage time.

A real-time data acquisition module provides the link to the outside world. Data can be read from a binary or ASCII file, from a database, or from any external process producing a real-time data stream. More than 300 data changes are typically processed per second, although the PG&E system is designed to handle up to several thousand per second, which may be necessary in an emergency situation (such as an earthquake). Between 100-250 substations and field locations per master station will typically be monitored and controlled simultaneously, with the expert system making instantaneous decisions to optimize the power grid.

The RTscada system is designed to interconnect nine master stations in two PG&E regions: Golden Gate and the East Bay. The expert system will also interface with the PG&E LAN and WAN (local area network and wide area network) systems, so any person or program with access to the PG&E backbone communications system has access to the SCADA system data.

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Promus Hotel Implements Intelligent agents

Promus Hotel Corp. (Memphis, Tenn.), with properties including Embassy Suites, Hampton Inn and Homewood Suites hotels, is deploying the intelligent software agents to provide computer telephony integration (CTI) for its 800 number reservation system call center. The reservation center takes approximately 10 million calls per year, with 4,000 calls per hour at peak hours. The use of the intelligent agents for CTI is reducing live agent time by 30 seconds on every sales call, resulting in a large cost savings for Promus.

The new Promus application uses software agents to interpret incoming call information, search a host database, and present the caller's information and reservation history on the live operator's screen as the call rings in.

Thanks to the intelligent agents, Promus is able to preserve its original investment in its existing reservation system. An AT&T switch passes a caller's telephone number to the agent software, which in turn passes it on to the reservation system and allows it to look up the caller's historic information before the live agent touches the keyboard.

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Decontaminating facilities with VR

Engineering firm TRW (Redondo Beach, Calif.) is using virtual reality (VR) to decontaminate nuclear facilities. The company has developed a system called CAPS (Characterization Analysis Planning System) that uses VR technology to generate information needed to decommission, decontaminate and dismantle old buildings once used for producing radioactive materials for atomic bombs during the height of the Cold War.

Thanks to CAPS, photogrammetry and solid modeling, clean-up personnel now have a way to create a model of the interior of a facility. VR then allows workers to "walk through" that model before they are sent in for the actual clean-up.

TRW's system combines advanced VR features with photography to visualize facility models. First, information is gathered by taking photos using a 35mm hand-held camera, with only minimal measurements taken for scale. This method helps reduces the time spent at the actual site gathering data. If radioactivity is too high for humans, a telerobot can be used to operate the camera.

The photos and other information are loaded into the computer. Using a process called photogrammetry, engineers create a model of as-is conditions. A photogrammetric analysis calculates the camera location and allows the user to obtain 3-D coordinates. 3-D solid models are built directly on top of the photos using TRW-developed software and commercially available CAD and plant design packages.

Models are then imported into a PC-based VR system that can accept information from multiple sources and formats. Once a virtual environment is created, engineers "walk through" the site, looking for hazards and planning the actual decontamination process, including determining what types of tools to use. Since the site is computer-generated, radioactivity is, of course, not a concern, thereby allowing workers to practice the demolition before they ever see the actual site.

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Contributing editor David Blanchard is editor of Intelligent Systems Report, (330) 677-4210, E-mail: blanchard@lionhrtpub.com

E-mail to the Editorial Department of OR/MS Today: orms@lionhrtpub.com

OR/MS Today copyright 1997, 1998 by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences. All rights reserved.

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