Projects For Solving Big Water Problems

We’re looking for solutions to problems that matter and water waste is high on that list. This week we challenged you to think about Big Water; ideas that could help conserve the water used in agricultural and industrial applications. Take a look at some of the entries, get excited, and start working on your own idea for the 2015 Hackaday Prize.


smart-dewpoint-harvesterThat’s right, windtraps. Like the Fremen of Arrakis there were a few hackers who propose systems to pull moisture from the air.

The RainMaker is targeted for urban farming and explores the possibility of passive systems that water themselves automatically. [Hickss] admits that there are some limitations to the concept. Small systems would have limited ability to collect moisture and a need for direct sunlight in order to be solar powered. However, if you’re growing food we figure direct sunlight was a pre-requisite anyway.

On a bit grander scale is the Smart Dew-Point Water Harvester which is shown off in this diagram. The proof of concept at this point is a desktop system that collects moisture on a small heat-sync. Scroll down to that project’s comments and read about the possibility of building the system underground to take advantage of the naturally colder area.

For us the interesting question is can this be done in conjunction with traditional irrigation? Is a lot of irrigation water lost to evaporation and could reclamation through these means make an impact?

Moisture Sensing

water-sensing-orb-thumbSimple but powerful: only water when the plants need it! Here are several entries focused on sensors that make sure fields are being watered more efficiently.

The Adaptive Watering System focuses on this, seeking to retrofit current setups with sensor pods that make up a mesh network. We found the conjecture about distributing and retrieving these pods using a combine harvester quite interesting.

Going along with the networked concept there is a Moisture Monitoring Mesh Network which proposes individual solar-powered spikes. Much of the info for that project is embodied in the diagram, including a mock-up of how the data could be visualized. One thing we hadn’t spent much time thinking about is that fields may be watered unevenly and a sensor network would be a powerful tool in balancing these systems.

Wrapping up this concept is the Soil Moisture Sensor for Agriculture. [JamesW_001] rendered the image seen above as his concept for the sensor. Toss the orbs throughout the fields and the rings of contacts on the outside make up the sensor while the brains held safely inside report back wirelessly.


solar-water-pumpTwo projects tackled plumbing. The first is the Solar Water Pump seen here. Focused on the developing world, this array provides water for multiple applications, including agricultural irrigation, and can be used for wells or surface water sources.

Once that pump gets the water moving it will be taking a trip through some pipes which are another potential source of waste. When buried pipes leak, how will you know about it? That’s the issue tackled by the Water Pipeline Leak Detection and Location project. When the water pipe is buried, two sets of twisted-pair conductors in permeable sheathing are also buried along with it. These redundant sensors would use Time-Domain Reflectometry (TDR) to detect the location of a short between conductors. We’re a bit fuzzy on how this would detect leaks and not rain or irrigation water but perhaps the pipe/wire pairs would be in their own water-shedding sleeve?

This Week’s Winners


First place this week goes to the Smart Garden and will receive a DSLogic 16-channel Logic Analyzer.

Second place this week goes to Soil Moisture Sensor for Agriculture and will receive an Adafruit Bluefruit Bluetooth Low Energy sniffer.

Third place this week goes to Solar Water Pump and will receive a Hackaday robot head tee.

Next Week’s Theme

We’ll announce next week’s theme a bit later today. Don’t let that stop you from entering any ideas this collection of entries may have inspired. Start your project on and add the tag 2015HackadayPrize.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Brewing Beer with a Sous Vide Cooker

[Ken] found an interesting use for his sous vide cooker. He’s been using it to help him with his home brewing. It’s unlikely that the manufacturer ever intended it to be used in this manner, but as hackers we don’t really care about warranties.

Beer brewing is as much of an art as it is a science. There are a lot of variables that go into the process, and tweaking any one of them can result in your beer tasting different. There is one process during brewing that is called mashing. Mashing is when you soak malted grains in hot water to pull out the sugar. The amount of sugar that gets extracted is very dependent on how long the grains are soaked, and the temperature of the water. If you want your beer to taste a certain way, then you want to ensure that the water stays at constant, repeatable temperature.

As a home brewer, [Ken] has been using his stove top to heat the water. This gets the water warm, but in order to keep the temperature consistent, he has to constantly monitor the temperature and adjust the knob accordingly. Who wants to sit around and do that all day? He needed something to control the temperature automatically. Enter the sous vide cooker.

Sous vide is a method of cooking in which food is placed into an airtight bag and then submerged in a water bath with very strict temperature control. The process takes a long time to cook the food, but the result is supposed to be meat that is cooked perfectly even while also retaining all of the moisture and juices. [Ken] figured he might be able to use a sous vide cooker to control the temperature of the mash instead of a water bath.

His experiment worked wonderfully. He used the stove top to help get the mash up to the close temperature, then the sous vide cooker was used to fine tune things from there. [Ken] says he was able to achieve 75% efficiency with his mash, which is exactly what he was going for. Continue reading “Brewing Beer with a Sous Vide Cooker”

Saving The Planet One Flush At A Time

Water is a natural resource that some of use humans take for granted. It seems that we can turn on a facet to find an unlimited supply. That’s not true in all parts of the world. In the US, toilets use 27% of household water requirements. That’s a lot of water to only be used once. The water filling the toilet after the flush is the same as that comes out of the sink. [gregory] thought it would make sense to combine toilet tank filling with hand washing as those two activities happen at the same time.

To accomplish this, a DIY sink and faucet were put in-line with the toilet tank fill supply. The first step was to make a new tank lid. [gregory] used particle board and admits it probably isn’t the best material, but it is what he had on hand. A hole was cut in the lid where a metal bowl is glued in. Holes were drilled in the bottom of the bowl so that water could drain down into the tank. The faucet is just standard copper tubing. The curve was bent by hand using a wire wrap method to keep it from kinking. The only remaining part was to connect the fill line (after the fill valve) to the faucet. Now, when the toilet is flushed, the faucet starts flowing.

Continue reading “Saving The Planet One Flush At A Time”

Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants


If you want your plants to stay healthy, you need to make sure they stay watered. [Dimbit] decided to build his own solar powered circuit to help automatically keep his plants healthy. Like many things, there is more than one way to skin this cat. [Dimbit] had seen other similar projects before, but he wanted to make his smarter than the average watering project. He also wanted it to use very little energy.

[Dimbit] first tackled the power supply. He suspected he wouldn’t need much more than 5V for his project. He was able to build his own solar power supply by using four off-the-shelf solar garden lamps. These lamps each have their own low quality solar panel and AAA NiMH cell. [Dimbit] designed and 3D printed his own plastic stand to hold all of the solar cells in place. All of the cells and batteries are connected in series to increase the voltage.

Next [Dimbit] needed an electronically controllable water valve. He looked around but was unable to find anything readily available that would work with very little energy. He tried all different combinations of custom parts and off-the-shelf parts but just couldn’t make something with a perfect seal. The solution came from an unlikely source.

One day, when [Dimbit] ran out of laundry detergent, he noticed that the detergent bottle cap had a perfect hole that should be sealable with a steel ball bearing. He then designed his own electromagnet using a bolt, some magnet wire, and a custom 3D printed housing. This all fit together with the detergent cap to make a functional low power water valve.

The actual circuit runs on a Microchip PIC microcontroller. The system is designed to sleep for approximately nine minutes at a time. After the sleep cycle, it wakes up and tests a probe that sits in the soil. If the resistance is low enough, the PIC knows that the plants need water. It then opens the custom valve to release about two teaspoons of water from a gravity-fed system. After a few cycles, even very dry soil can reach the correct moisture level. Be sure to watch the video of the functioning system below. Continue reading “Solar Powered Circuit Waters Your Plants”

Simple Photo Flash Trigger for Water Balloon Photography

Water Balloon Photography

There have been countless projects to make custom photo flash trigger circuits. Usually the circuits react to sound, triggering the camera flash at the moment a certain sound is triggered. That type of trigger can be used to detect the popping of a balloon or shattering of glass. Other triggers detect motion, like a projectile crossing a laser beam for example. [Udo’s] friend had a fun idea to take photos of water balloons popping. Unfortunately neither of those trigger methods would be well suited for this situation. That’s when [Udo] had to get creative.

[Udo] built a unique trigger circuit that uses the water inside the balloon as the trigger. The core component of the circuit is an Arduino. One of the Arduino’s analog pins is configured to enable the internal pull-up resistor. If nothing else is connected to the pin, the Arduino will read 5 volts there. The pin is connected to a needle on the end of a stick. There is a second needle on the same stick, just a short distance away from the first. When these needles pierce the balloon’s skin, the water inside allows for a brief moment of conductivity between the two pins. The voltage on the analog pin then drops slightly, and the Arduino can detect that the balloon has popped.

[Udo] already had a flash controller circuit. He was able to trigger it with the Arduino by simply trying the flash controller’s trigger pin to one of the Arduino’s pins. If the Arduino pulls the pin to ground, it closes the switch on the flash controller and the flash is triggered. Both circuits must share a common ground in order for this to work.

All of the code for [Udo’s] project is freely available. With such spectacular photographs, it’s only a matter of time before we see more of these floating around.

Hydropower from a Washing Mashine

Living off the grid is an appealing goal for many in the hacker community, perhaps because it can fulfill the need to create, to establish independence, to prepare for the apocalypse, or some combination of all those things. [Buddhanz1] has been living off the grid for awhile now by harnessing power from a nearby stream with an old washing-machine-turned-generator.

He started with a Fisher & Paykel smart drive, which he stripped down to the middle housing, retaining the plastic tub, the stator, the rotor, the shaft, and the bearings. After a quick spot check to ensure the relative quality of the stator and the rotor, [Buddhanz1] removed the stator and rewired it. Unchanged, the stator would output 0-400V unloaded at 3-4 amps max, which isn’t a particularly useful range for charging batteries. By rewiring the stator (demonstration video here) he lowered the voltage while increasing the current.

The key to this build is the inclusion of a pelton wheel—which we’ve seen before in a similar build. [Buddhanz1] channeled the water flow directly into the pelton wheel to spin the shaft inside the tub. After adding some silicon sealant and an access/repair hatch, [Buddhanz1] painted the outside to protect the assembly from the sun, and fitted a DC rectifier that converts the electricity for the batteries. With the water pressure at about 45psi, the generator is capable of ~29V/21A: just over 600W. With a larger water jet, the rig can reach 900W. Stick around for the video after the break.

Continue reading “Hydropower from a Washing Mashine”

THP Hacker Bio: hackersbench



Remote sensing applications that make sense and cents? (sorry, couldn’t help ourselves) That’s what [hackersbench], aka [John Schuch], aka [@JohnS_AZ] is working on as his entry for The Hackaday Prize.

He received a multi-thousand-dollar water bill after having an underground pipe break and leak without knowing it. His idea will help you notice problems like this sooner. But if you actually have a way to capture data about your own water use you also have a tool to help encourage less wasteful water use habits. We wanted to learn more about the hacker who is working on this project. [John’s] answers to our slate of questions are after the break.

Continue reading “THP Hacker Bio: hackersbench”