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.

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7 thoughts on “Hackaday Prize Entry: The Internet Of Plants

  1. Some background info on my part of Southern California: Local city governments have water usage reduction goals, and around here (East LA) they have already have mandated watering only twice a week, with some enforcing watering on two specific days. Center medians and some public land is being watered even more frugally if at all. Most residential lawns should be yellowing, so neighbors can report if they are so inclined, though a recent awareness ad by LA mayor Garcetti seems to discourage reporting in favor of asking your neighbor to stop.

    Clouden would be great to have, especially if cities can deploy them to all their constituents so neighbors cannot get into the mindset that others are cheating when sensors detect the ground is dry… but there can be an issue with people who have plants with different water requirements (drought-tolerant versus tropical) or people who have less shaded land (shade can be cast from trees or structures on their land or neighboring lots) as plants regulate temperature through respirating water. How do you make the determination of how much water these should responsibly receive when cities have already implemented stricter guidelines that limit the number of days and amount of time people can water?

    1. As a fellow Southern Californian, most yards in my area are xeriscaped (think of decorative gravel and cactus, drip irrigation) and somewhat drought tolerant. If anyone has grass, it’s generally in small decorative patches under 100 sq. ft. Just as we have “smart meters” to assist home-owners with monitoring electrical usage, I’m sure it won’t be long before water meters are similarly changed but will also incorporate actuators to enforce decreased water usage. In my area, for now anyway, the cities are “encouraging” water conservation with a “stage I” policy, including the usual admonitions to cut back on yard watering, no car washing with hoses unless the hose has an “auto-off” nozzle, no washing down of driveways/sidewalks, etc. I’d like to see IOT sensors that could be deployed around the yard, at the base of plants, to better regulate watering. Instead of watering zones being geographically determined parts of the yard, the better-tuned watering zones could be based on the different plants in the yard having similar watering needs, regardless of location.

      Economical ocean desalination anyone?

  2. I’ve seen sprinkler systems that have sensors to calculate ‘pan evaporation’ based on the temperature, humidity, and amount of sunlight and adjust sprinkler times accordingly. I would love to see an open source watering system incorporate this feature…

    1. i like this. this works great if you only want one sensor to estimate a requirement over a large area.

      if you want something more precise, use some sensor to actually measure soil humidity at the base of a plant you care about.

      there’s no sense of watering the entire soil area, if for example you have an orchard. you only care about the trees, not all the weeds and grass in between. Of course, the drawback is you’d need more than one site to install sensors at, and you’d probably need to use capacitive sensors if you want to leave them in all the time, and not care about corrosion. this solution scales up in price pretty fast, because you’d need more sensors to begin with, and the hardware requirement of reading capacitive sensors are a bit more expensive than a plain old voltage reading.

  3. In much of Australia – A 14 year drought? Everyone just lets the grass die off and only spot waters the important plants, and the rest? They die off too. Watering large areas in a drought, is a huge waste of water.

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