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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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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Hackaday Prize Semifinalist: Conserving Water and Eliminating Daydreaming

[mulcmu], we suppose, frequently wastes a lot of water while daydreaming in the shower. While daydreaming in the shower one day, we suppose again, he came up with the idea of keeping on task while in the shower. Thus was born the shower metronome, [mulcmu]’s entry for The Hackaday Prize.

The goal of the shower metronome is two-fold. First, it reduces the amount of water used in the shower. Secondly, it keeps the user on time for work. The shower metronome does this with a small audio beep provided by a small microcontroller attached to the shower frame or shower curtain.

The guts of the device are an MSP430 microcontroller, a few coin cell batteries, and a hall effect sensor that turns the device on, just like a magnetic door or window alarm. The microcontroller choice is perfect for the application; the MSP430 is extremely low power, and the device only draws 1uA in low power mode. This means the shower metronome will last a while when used only a few minutes a day.

The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Hackaday Prize Entry: Saving Water with the Vinduino

[Reinier van der Lee] owns a vineyard in southern California – a state that is in a bit of a water crisis. [Reinier van der Lee] also owns an arduino and a soldering iron. He put together a project the reduces his water usage by 25%, and has moved it to open source land. It’s called the Vinduino.

water animationIts operation is straight forward. You put a water sensor in the dirt. You turn on the water. When the water hits the sensor, you turn the water off. This was not, however, the most efficient method. The problem is by the time the sensor goes off, the soil is saturated to the point that the plant cannot take it all up, and water is wasted.

The problem was solved by using three sensors. The lowest most sensor is placed below the roots. So it should never go off. If it does, the plant is not taking in all the water, and you can reduce the output. The two sensors above it monitor the water as it transitions through the soil, so it knows when to decrease the water amount and watering cycle times.

Be sure to check out the project details. All code and build files are available on his github under the GNU General Public License 3.0


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

Time for the Prize: Big Water

I inadvertently started a vigorous debate a few weeks ago with the Time for the Prize post about a shower feedback loop. That debate was on the effect of curbing household water since households make up a relatively small percentage of total use. I think we should be thinking of solutions for all parts of the problem and so this week we’ll be looking for ideas that can help conserve water in large-scale use cases. Primarily these are agricultural and industrial but if you know of others feel free to make your case.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, about 80% of all ground and surface water is used in agriculture. I’m not particularly interested in hearing a debate on water rights and the like (there’s a rather interesting article here if you want more on that). The agriculture industry produces food, and employs a lot of people. The conflict is of course long growing season versus lack of water compounded by severe drought. Even if we could move our food production elsewhere it would be a monumental undertaking to also relocate the infrastructure supporting it. Of course we need to look to the future, but can we leverage our engineering prowess now to conserve the water that is being used right now?

Enter with an Idea

Write down your ideas for agricultural and industrial water conservation as a project on Hackaday.io. Tag the project 2015HackdayPrize. Do this by next Monday and you’re in the running for this week’s awesome prizes.

You aren’t necessarily committing yourself to finishing out the build. At this point we want to get the idea machine rolling. One good idea could spark the breakthrough that makes a real difference in the world.

This Week’s Prizes

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We’ll be picking three of the best ideas based on their potential to help alleviate a wide-ranging problem, the innovation shown by the concept, and its feasibility. First place will receive a DSLogic 16-channel Logic Analyzer. Second place will receive a an Adafruit Bluefruit Bluetooth Low Energy sniffer. Third place will receive a Hackaday robot head tee.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by:

We Have a Problem: Shower Feedback Loop

Hackaday, we have a problem. Clean water is precious and we want to come up with some ideas to help conserve it. Today’s topic is water wasted while showering. Let’s kick around some ideas and prompt some new builds for The Hackaday Prize.

We’ve all done it; your mind wanders and before you know it you’ve been standing in the shower for far too long. How much water have you wasted? Who know’s, there’s no feedback loop in the shower. But we think adding a little bit of feedback is a fantastic avenue to help combat wasteful habits.

Color Changing Showerheads

shower-feedback-color-idea

What if the showerhead changed colors based on how much water had flowed through it? We’ve already seen consumer showerheads that have the LEDs inside of them, and flow meters are readily available. Start your shower off in the green, as you lather up the suds it moves through blue, purple, orange, red, and finally to flashing red. It doesn’t have to be annoying, but just enough to help quantify how much is pouring down the drain.

Shower Beats

We were big fans of the game SSX Tricky back in the day. The better you were at tricks, the better the music was. If you crashed hard, you’d be listening to nothing more than hi-hat and subdued bass. Apply this to shower time. What if that flow meter you installed on your shower head was connected to a shower radio? Start it off with the best music in the world and progress to the lamest as you run the reservoir dry (ymmv on these selections of course).

Now You Try

If you shave off 5 seconds from your shower it will have a tiny impact in your household. But imagine the aggregate of every household in the world doing so.

This is part of what the 2015 Hackaday Prize is all about. Get the idea machine rolling. Tell us your riff on the shower feedback loop in the comments below. Put up a new project on Hackaday.io, write down an idea, and tag it “2015HackadayPrize”. We’re on the lookout for the best seed ideas and will be giving away shirts and stickers to the ones that show real promise. We’ll be featuring some of these in future installments of “Hackaday, We Have Problem” and if we choose yours it’ll land you with some swag of your own.


The 2015 Hackaday Prize is sponsored by: