The sort of pumps used in the filtration systems of fountains and swimming pools don’t take kindly to running dry. So putting such a pump on a simple timer to run while you’re away comes with a certain level of risk: if the pump runs out of water while you’re gone, you might come home to a melted mess. One possible solution is a float sensor to detect the water level in whatever you’re trying to pump, but that can get complicated when you’re talking about something as large as a pool.
For his entry into the 2019 Hackaday Prize, [Luc Brun] is working on controller that can detect when the pump is running dry by monitoring the phase shift between voltage and current. With an inductive load like a pump, the current should lag behind the AC voltage a bit under normal operation. But if they become too far out of phase with each other, that’s a sign that the pump is running in a no-load condition because there’s no water to slow it down.
As [Luc] explains in the project write-up, simply monitoring the pump’s peak current could work, but it would be less reliable. The problem is that different motors have different current consumptions, so unless you calibrated the controller to the specific load it’s protecting, you could get false readings. But the relationship between current and voltage should remain fairly consistent between different motors.
The controller is powered by a Arduino Nano and uses a ACS712 current sensor to take phase measurements. Since he had the ability to toggle the pump on and off with a relay attached to the Arduino, [Luc] decided to add in a few other features. The addition of a DS1307 Real Time Clock means the pump can be run on a schedule, and an HC-05 Bluetooth module lets him monitor the whole system from his smartphone with an Android application he developed.
Since the theme of this year’s Hackaday Prize is designing a product rather than a one-off build, judges will be looking for exactly the sort of forward thinking that [Luc] has demonstrated here. As the controller is currently a mass of individual modules held inside a waterproof enclosure, the next steps for this project will likely be the finalization of the hardware design and the production of a custom PCB.