In my opinion, the best projects in the Hackaday Prize are the weirdest. Building a computer from sand is an admirable goal, and polar coordinate 3D printers are awesome. These projects obviously have limited utility, and there’s no accounting for taste, anyway. The real proof of how successful a project is, is the degree to which it can be spun out into a product. There’s a social proof in selling something, and last year we introduced the Best Product competition into the Hackaday Prize. The idea is simple: build something other people would want, and you’ll win a residency in the SupplyFrame Design lab to turn your project into a product.
The winner of last year’s Best Product competition in the Hackaday Prize was the Vinduino, From [Renier van der Lee], a water-saving irrigation project for vineyards. Over the last year, this project has seen some amazing success, saved a bunch of water, and proven itself to be an excellent entry into the Hackaday Prize.
The idea behind the Vinduino is simple — you should only irrigate vines when they need water. This is in contrast to dumb irrigation systems that turn on and off according to a schedule. The devil is in the details, so how is the Vinduino accomplishing this?
The basic idea behind the Vinduino is to put a water sensor in the roots of a few vines. Price and durability is paramount here, and requires some really interesting techniques. [Renier] has developed a very interesting gypsum soil moisture sensor that’s both cheap and accurate enough to measure the moisture present around the roots of a grapevine.
Several of these sensors connect to the Vinduino electronic module. Thanks to a few long range RF LoRa modules and the ability to charge the battery using solar power, the Vinduino becomes a device to measure how wet the rootball of a vine is. When the roots dry out, the irrigation turns on. When the moisture sensor starts sending good readings, the irrigation turns off. It’s brilliantly simple, and saves a lot of water.
With any sort of resource-saving device, there must be some sort of calculation of how much a system costs versus how much the system saves. Over the past year, [Renier]’s Vinduino installation saved his vineyard 430,000 gallons of water, or a cost savings of $1,925. The entire Vinduino installation cost only $635. That’s an immediate return on investment and something a few other vineyards have noticed. Already there are a handful of vineyards building out their own Vinduino network. [Renier] has been working on adding additional instrumentation to the network such as an anemometer and a LoRa/LAN gateway.
The Vinduino ecosystem is expanding, and a lot of people are taking notice. It’s a great way to save some water, and the great return on investment makes this a good product. It’s among the best the Hackaday Prize offered last year, and a great example of what open hardware and a dedicated community can do.