Hackaday Prize Entry: The Internet of Plants

The theme of this year’s Hackaday Prize is ‘build something that matters.’ Acrobotic Industries is in beautiful Southern California, where it won’t rain an appreciable amount until the mudslides come. For a little bit of help during this unprecedented drought, they’ve created Clouden, a system of irrigation that only waters yards and parks when the plants need it. This is apparently a novel concept for Southern California, and is most certainly something that matters.

The Clouden system has two parts. The first is a node with an array of soil water sensors and a Particle WiFi module. This node connects to the controller which alters watering schedules in response to actual conditions and predicted rainfall from the WeatherUnderground API.

There’s more to just listening to sensors – the Clouden controller also has the hardware to control 24VAC water valves and a web interface for scheduling irrigation times. With this many sensors – and the ability to not water when there’s a ban in place – it’s a great watering system, and something Southern California desperately needs.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Shapeshifting Material For Weather Adaptive Structures

Where [Isaac Newton] had his apple (maybe), [Chao Chen] found inspiration in a pine cone for a design project that lead to a water-sensitive building material. He noticed the way some pine cones are sensitive to water, closing up tight when it rains, but opening up with dry conditions. Some dissection of a pine cone revealed [Mother Nature’s] solution – different layers that swell preferentially when exposed to moisture, similar to how a bimetallic strip flexes when heated. [Chao Chen’s] solution appears to use balsa wood and a polystyrene sheet laminated to a fabric backing to achieve the same movement – the wood swells when wet and pulls the laminate flat, but curls up when dry.

As [Chao] points out, the material is only a prototype, but it looks like a winner down the road. The possibilities for an adaptive material like this are endless. [Chao] imagines a picnic pavilion with a roof that snaps shut when it rains, and has built a working model. What about window shutters that let air and light in but close up automatically in that sudden summer storm? Self-deploying armor for your next epic Super Soaker battle? Maybe there are more serious applications that would help solve some of the big problems with water management that the world faces.

Make sure you check out the video after the break, with a more decorative application that starts out looking like an [M.C. Escher] print but ends up completely different.

Continue reading “Shapeshifting Material For Weather Adaptive Structures”

Manipulating Matter In A Digital Way

On a fundamental level a computer’s processor is composed of logic gates. These gates use the presence of electricity and lack thereof to represent a binary system of ones and zeros. You say “we already know this!” But have you ever considered the idea of using something other than electricity to make binary computations? Well, a team at Stanford University has. They’re using tiny droplets of water and bar magnets to make logic gates.

Their goal is not to manipulate information or to compete with modern ‘electrical’ computers. Instead, they’re aiming to manipulate matter in a logical way. Water droplets are like little bags that can carry an assortment of other molecules making the applications far reaching. In biology for instance, information is exchanged via Action Potentials – which are electrical and chemical spikes. We have the electrical part down. This technology could lead to harnessing the chemical part as well.

Be sure to check out the video below, as they explain their “water computer” in more detail.

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Motion Sensing Water Gun Tweets Photos To Embarrass Enemies

[Ashish] is bringing office warfare to the next level with a motion sensing water gun. Not only does this water gun automatically fire when it detects motion, but it also takes a photo of the victim and publishes it on Twitter.

This hack began with the watergun. [Ashish] used a Super Soaker Thunderstorm motorized water gun. He pulled the case apart and cut one of the battery wires. he then lengthened the exposed ends and ran them out of the gun to his control circuit. He also placed a protection diode to help prevent any reverse EMF from damaging his more sensitive electronics. The new control wires run to a MOSFET on a bread board.

[Ashish] is using a Lightblue Bean board as a microcontroller. The Bean is Arduino compatible and can be programmed via low energy Bluetooth. The Bean uses an external PIR sensor to detect motion in the room. When it senses the motion, it activates the MOSFET which then turns on the water gun.

[Ashish] decided to use Node-RED and Python to link the Bean to a Twitter account. The system runs on a computer and monitor’s the Bean’s serial output. If it detects the proper command, it launches a Python script which takes a photo using a webcam. A second script will upload that photo to a Twitter account. The Node-RED server can also monitor the Twitter account for incoming direct messages. If it detects a message with the correct password, it can use the rest of the message as a command to enable or disable the gun.

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 Hackaday.io 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.

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