Vinduino Water-Smart Farming – Now With LoRa!

Our five rounds of Hackaday Prize 2018 challenges have just wrapped up, and we’re looking forward to see where the chips fall in the final ranking. While we’re waiting for the winners to be announced at Hackaday Superconference, it’s fun to take a look back at one of our past winners. Watch [Reinier van der Lee] give the latest updates on his Vinduino project (video also embedded after the break) to a Hackaday Los Angeles meetup earlier this year.

Vinduino started with [Reinier]’s desire to better understand what happens to irrigation water under the surface, measuring soil moisture at different depths. This knowledge informs more efficient use of irrigation water, as we’ve previously covered in more detail. What [Reinier] has been focused on is improving usability of the system by networking the sensors wirelessly versus having to walk up and physically attach a reader unit.

His thought started the same as ours – put them on WiFi! But adding WiFi coverage across his entire vineyard was not going to be cost-effective. After experimenting with various communication schemes, he has settled on LoRa. Designed to trade raw bandwidth for long range with low power requirements, it is a perfect match for a network of soil moisture sensors.

In the video [Reinier] gives an overview of LoRa for those who might be unfamiliar. Followed by results of his experiments integrating LoRa functionality into Vinduino, and ending with a call to action for hackers to help grow the LoRa network. It sounds like he’s become quite the champion for the cause! He’s even giving a hands-on workshop at Supercon where you can build your own LoRa connected sensor. (Get tickets here.)

We’re always happy to see open-source hardware projects like Vinduino succeed, transitioning to a product that solve real world problems. We know there are even more promising ideas out there, which is why Hackaday’s sister company Tindie is funding a Project to Product program to help this year’s winners follow in Vinduino’s footsteps. We look forward to sharing more success stories yet to come.

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Battery-Powered Watering Timer Converted To Solar On The Cheap

Watering the garden or the lawn is one of those springtime chores that is way more appealing early in the season than later. As the growing season grinds along, a chore that seemed life-giving and satisfying becomes, well, just another chore, and plants often suffer for it.

Automating the watering task can be as simple as buying a little electronic timer valve that turns on the flow at the appointed times. [A1ronzo] converted his water hose timer to solar power. Most such timers are very similar, with a solenoid-operated pilot valve in line with the water supply and an electronic timer of some sort. The whole thing is quite capable of running on a pair of AA batteries, but rather than wasting money on new batteries several times a season, he slipped a LiPo pack and a charge controller into the battery case slot and connected a small solar panel to the top of the controller.

The LiPo is a nominal 3.7-volt pack, so he did a little testing to make sure the timer would be OK with the higher voltage. The solar panel sits on top of the case, and the whole thing should last for years. And bonus points for never having to replace a timer that you put away at the end of the season with batteries still in it, only to have them leak. Ask us how we know.

Like the best of hacks, this one is quick, easy and cheap — $15 in parts, aside from the timer. There are more complicated irrigation solutions, of course, one of which even won the Hackaday Prize once upon a time. But this one has us ordering parts to build our own right now.

Hackaday Prize Entry: Pan And Tilt Sprinkler

There are a few very popular irrigation systems entered into this year’s Hackaday Prize. In fact, last year’s winner for the Best Product portion of the Prize was the Vinduino, a soil moisture monitor for vineyards. Most of these irrigation systems use drip irrigation or are otherwise relatively small-scale. What if you need something a little more powerful? That’s where [Patrick]’s PTSprinkler comes in. It’s a massive lawn sprinkler coupled to a computer controlled pan and tilt mount. Think of it as a remote controlled Super Soaker, or the Internet of squirt guns. Either way, it’s a great entry for this year’s Hackaday Prize.

The PTSprinkler is designed to use as many low-cost, off-the-shelf components as possible. This started out with a heavy duty outdoor pan-tilt stage an irrigation solenoid valve.

The idea for this sprinkler is to first manually define a shape on the lawn that the sprinkler should cover. From there, the electronics figure out a fill pattern for this grassy polygon. So far, [Patrick] has an electronics board that will move the pan/tilt stage with the help of a Raspberry Pi. You can check out a video of that in action below.

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Autonomous Plant Watering Thingamajig

[Eitan] is one of those guys whose plants keep tottering between life and death. Can’t blame the plants, because he just keeps forgetting when to water them. But keeping them hydrated requires him to get off his butt and actually water them. Surely, there had to be an easier solution which needed him to do nothing and yet prevent his plants from dying. Being lazy has its benefits, so he built his own super simple Autonomous Plant Watering Thingamajig.

He needed a water pump, but all he had was an air pump. So he hooked it up to force air in to a sealed container and push the water out. To make the setup autonomous, he connected the pump to a WiFi-enabled wall socket and then programmed it to dispense water at regular intervals. It may take him some time to fine tune the right interval and duration for his setup over the next few weeks, but right now, it’s pumping water for a short duration once every week.

The important thing for a system like this to work is to ensure it is well sealed. Any air leakage will require an increasing amount of air to be pumped in to the container as the water level keeps reducing. Without knowing the actual level of water in the container, it isn’t easy to compensate for this via programming. And that’s the other problem. [Eitan] will still have to periodically check his mason jar for water, and top it up manually. Maybe his next hack will take care of that. We’re thinking a Rube Goldberg watering system would be awesome. It’s nice when people put on their thinking caps and say “Okay, here’s a problem, how do I solve it?” instead of going out and buying an off-the-shelf device.

Thanks, [Clay], for sending in this tip.

Water-Saving Agricultural System Wins Best Product

The 2015 Hackaday Prize included something new: a prize for the Best Product. The winner took home $100k in funding, a six-month residency at the Supplyframe Design Lab in Pasadena, and help turning a budding product into a full-grown success. And the winner is…

Vinduino

vinduino-shot0007 Water is a crucial element for farming: the plants need enough, but not too much. Water is also an increasingly precious resource all over the world. In California, five times as much water is used in agriculture as is used by residential consumers. A 25% reduction in agricultural use, for instance, would entirely offset all urban water use. With this in mind, a number of California farmers are trying to voluntarily reduce their water consumption. But how?

One important development is targeted irrigation. Getting precisely the right amount of water to each plant can reduce the fraction lost to evaporation or runoff. It’s a small thing, but it’s a very big deal.

Cue Vinduino, a long-running project of “gentleman farmer” and hacker [Reinier van der Lee]. As a system, Vinduino aims to make it easy and relatively inexpensive to measure the amount of water in the soil at different depths, to log this information, and to eventually tailor the farm’s water usage to the plants and their environment. We were able to catch up with [Reinier] at the Hackaday SuperConference the day after results were announced. He shared his story of developing Vinduino and recounts how he felt when it was named Best Product:

The product that won Best Product is simple, but very well executed. It’s a hand-held soil moisture sensor reader that couples with a DIY soil probe design to create a versatile and inexpensive system. All of the 2015 Best Product Finalists were exceptional. Vinduino’s attention to detail, room for expansion, and the potential to help the world pushed this project over the top.

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Irrighino, An Arduino Yun Based Watering System

There are many different ways to keep your plants watered on a schedule. [Luca Dentella] just created a new one by building the irrighino watering system. He used standard off the shelf, hardware to keep it simple. Irrighino is a complete watering system based on the Arduino Yun, featuring a user friendly AJAX interface. This allows scheduling in a manner similar to creating appointments in Outlook. It’s also possible to manually control the various water solenoids. The code is fully customizable and open source, with code available from [Luca’s] github repository. The web interface is divided in to three tabs – “runtime” for manual control, “setup” to configure the scheduling, and “events” to view system logs.

The Arduino Yun activates solenoid valves via a relay shield. A switch panel has indicator Status LED’s and three position switches. These allow the outputs to be switched off or on manually, or controlled via the Yun when in auto mode. [Luca] describes how to read three states of the switch (On-Off-On) when connected to a single analog input of the Arduino. He’s also got another tutorial describing how to connect a USB WiFi adapter to the Yun. This is handy since the Yun is mounted inside an enclosure where the signal strength is very weak. While the Yun has on-board WiFi, there is no possibility to attach an external antenna directly to the test SMA socket.

One interesting part is the commercial rain sensor. It’s a switch surrounded by a spongy material. When this material absorbs rain water, it begins to expand and triggers the switch. The Arduino sees the sensor as a simple digital input.

Check a short demo of his system in the video after the break.

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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: