Inspired by SIU Carbondale's Green Roof, we wanted to create an automated garden watering system that would help address issues ranging from food deserts to lack of agricultural space to storm water runoff.
What it does
This hardware solution takes in moisture data from soil and determines whether or not the plant needs to be watered. If the soil's moisture is too low, the valve will dispense water and the web server will display that water has been dispensed.
How we built it
First, we tested the sensor and determined the boundaries between dry, damp, and wet based on the sensor's output values. Then, we took the boundaries and divided them by percentage soil moisture. Specifically, the sensor that measures the conductivity of the material around it, so water being the most conductive had the highest values and air being the least conductive had the lowest. Soil would fall in the middle and the ranges in moisture were defined by the pure air and pure water boundaries.
From there, we visualized the hardware set up with the sensor connected to an Arduino UNO microcontroller connected to a Raspberry Pi 4 controlling a solenoid valve that releases water when the soil moisture meter is less than 40% wet.
Challenges we ran into
At first, we aimed too high. We wanted to incorporate weather data into our water dispensing system, but the information flow and JSON parsing were not cooperating with the Arduino IDE. We consulted with a mentor, Andre Abtahi, who helped us get a better perspective of our project scope. It was difficult to focus on what it meant to truly create a minimum viable product when we had so many ideas.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
Even though our team is spread across the country (California, Washington, and Illinois), we were still able to create a functioning hardware hack. In addition, as beginners we are very excited of this hackathon's outcome.
What we learned
We learned about wrangling APIs, how to work in a virtual hackathon, and project management. Upon reflection, creating a balance between feasibility, ability, and optimism is important for guiding the focus and motivations of a team. Being mindful about energy levels is especially important for long sprints like hackathons.
What's next for Water Smarter
Lots of things! What's next for Water Smarter is weather controlled water dispensing. Given humidity, precipitation, and other weather data, our water system will dispense more or less water. This adaptive water feature will save water and let nature pick up the slack. We would use the OpenWeatherMap API to gather the forecasted volume of rain, predict the potential soil moisture, and have the watering system dispense an adjusted amount of water to maintain correct soil moisture content.
In a future iteration of Water Smarter, we want to stretch the use of live geographic data even further by suggesting appropriate produce for which growing zone in the US, which will personalize the water conservation process. Not all plants are appropriate for all locations so we would want to provide the user with options for optimal planting. We can use software like ArcScene to look at sunlight exposure according to regional 3D topographical images and suggest planting locations and times.
We want our product to be user friendly, so we want to improve our aesthetics and show more information about soil moisture beyond just notifying water dispensing.