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EXECUTION Idea: Remote controlled automatic plant watering

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Bombastik_80

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Hi,

okay, this isn't really something new, but during this summer vacation I felt a need for the following item that I would actually buy:

It would be really nice having a cheap automatic plant watering, where there is also the opportunity to control it from remote. I have a lot of sunflowers on my balcony which are quite thirsty in the summer months, needing watering every day.

The idea would be something like I lie somewhere at the beach, open an app on my phone, take a look at my plants through a camera and switch on my watering, or, alternatively, switch to an automatic program.

Out of curiosity and as a first shot I built an ad-hoc plant watering on my balcony (see video and pic), without any remote control so far.

View: https://youtu.be/nuq1i-I2zDA


34658

The thing is very primitive as you might recognize at the first glance. It just consists of a small pump, a float switch, a small box which separates pump circuitry and float switch circuitry (via relay), a clock timer and wiring. Plus, of course, the mechanical parts (hoses and a valve).

The advantage: It was cheap (around 20€ for the electrical parts excluding the power supply, around 10€ for the mechanical parts), and I was able to build it quickly with recycled parts in under 1h.

As we are discussing ideas and basic concepts I would appreciate basic feedback for the idea of further developing such a watering device. As mentioned, I want to implement a remote control via android app, and on the mechanical level it would be cool having rather a kit with different-sized hoses, valves and hydraulic distributions.

With a Raspberry Pi for instance, one is able to devise a remote control via a couple of lines python code (Input/Output ports) that can be activated via app, and also to connect a camera (but I have not much experience with a Raspberry Pi so far). Of course that cannot be the actual solution if I want to scale this (?) since a Raspberry Pi costs between 80€ and 100€. Nobody would buy a plant watering for >100€ I guess.

Goal would be of course as always, developing something low-priced that fulfills an actual need.

Before I created this post I made some mandatory quick research of course, but I wasn't able to find something in this context that I would actually buy. If you have something like a link, I would really appreciate it.

This thread on the FLF was quite funny to read: Why did this product fail?

But anyway, thanks in advance.
 

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Parks

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As you said this is isn't anything really new but you are improving upon an old idea that is if this really already hasn't been done yet.

I think for this project it will all come down to marketing for you. Don't be scared to do some unconventional marketing too like offline ads/signs. I've always been obsessed with bandit signs, so maybe get your app created and start placing signs around cities with high traffic points showing your easy download app to start watching your plants and watering automated etc (get the download first and maybe allow to order the tubing/setup via the app as well, you'd only be advertising one thing then, the app vs two) As for some obvious pointers I'd recommend a notification tied to whatever plant you are growing (you'd be able to select) so based off the conditions you could know how often to tell it to water.

Then again you may never know this might work better for commercial use like for indoor cannabis growers. Good luck with it if you decide to pursue it looks fun.

 

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That's the problem.
$30 it's a lot to exchange your pet bottle.
Not sure what price sensitivity of plant owners is but I think it's too much.
You compete with something that is free and takes 4 minutes a week.

Your advertising angle could be targeting people that go on longer vacation and don't want to kill their plants in mean time.
 
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Bombastik_80

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@Kid That is a point of course. Target groups would be therefore rather small plant growing businesses or ambitious plant growers, someone who produces oil with sunflower seeds maybe where there is a demand for a tricky water supply of sorts. For sure not a grandma who has three flowers on her balcony and is visiting her daughter for a week.

Calculating solely the electronic parts, the costs approximately are not exceeding 85€.

Older version of Raspberry Pi (or another µC system) 40€. Power supply for the pump: 8€. Quality pump: 20€. Floating switch (optional) 3€. Wiring and additional electronics: 4€. Raspberry Pi camera (optional) 8€.

Mechanical parts depend on the actual application. A few hoses and a valve you can get for 10€.

My biggest obstacle would be developing the app itself, since I've never written apps so far (but I have some general knowledge about programming). Could be something that I might outsource, idk.

But just ideas so far, have to do some more research on this before actually starting.

Further input very appreciated :-D
 
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LordGanon

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I already did that. Didn't market it, though. You'd need to make it ultra-convenient, make it kawaii and market it as "PlantPet" or something like that. Should start with the push of a button, only need input on target moisture and do the rest by itself or on command.
 

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small plant growing businesses or ambitious plant growers,
Hobbyists? That could work.
"PlantPet"
PlantPal

When it comes to computing unit, you could go even lower.
With some small CPU parts and without GPU you could go very low.
(But probably coding them is a bit harder, but not not-doable)

Btw. Pi Zero is for $5 Raspberry Pi Zero
That would be $35 dollars off the price.
 

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Hobbyists? That could work.

PlantPal

When it comes to computing unit, you could go even lower.
With some small CPU parts and without GPU you could go very low.
(But probably coding them is a bit harder, but not not-doable)

Btw. Pi Zero is for $5 Raspberry Pi Zero
That would be $35 dollars off the price.
PlantPal is much better (y).

You could go even lower when it comes to the computing unit. ESP32 should work fine. Two bucks.

Actually, this is a no brainer for prototyping:

1. ESP32, Camera Module, Moisture Sensor - Programming will take less than a day.
2. Source a cheap pump
3. 3d model some kawaii case
4. Find a 3d printing service
5. Put it all together

6. Kickstarter

7. $$$

For a challenge, I'd try to do it all in a day.
 
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alexkuzmov

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Hi,

okay, this isn't really something new, but during this summer vacation I felt a need for the following item that I would actually buy:

It would be really nice having a cheap automatic plant watering, where there is also the opportunity to control it from remote. I have a lot of sunflowers on my balcony which are quite thirsty in the summer months, needing watering every day.

The idea would be something like I lie somewhere at the beach, open an app on my phone, take a look at my plants through a camera and switch on my watering, or, alternatively, switch to an automatic program.

Out of curiosity and as a first shot I built an ad-hoc plant watering on my balcony (see video and pic), without any remote control so far.

View: https://youtu.be/nuq1i-I2zDA


View attachment 34658

The thing is very primitive as you might recognize at the first glance. It just consists of a small pump, a float switch, a small box which separates pump circuitry and float switch circuitry (via relay), a clock timer and wiring. Plus, of course, the mechanical parts (hoses and a valve).

The advantage: It was cheap (around 20€ for the electrical parts excluding the power supply, around 10€ for the mechanical parts), and I was able to build it quickly with recycled parts in under 1h.

As we are discussing ideas and basic concepts I would appreciate basic feedback for the idea of further developing such a watering device. As mentioned, I want to implement a remote control via android app, and on the mechanical level it would be cool having rather a kit with different-sized hoses, valves and hydraulic distributions.

With a Raspberry Pi for instance, one is able to devise a remote control via a couple of lines python code (Input/Output ports) that can be activated via app, and also to connect a camera (but I have not much experience with a Raspberry Pi so far). Of course that cannot be the actual solution if I want to scale this (?) since a Raspberry Pi costs between 80€ and 100€. Nobody would buy a plant watering for >100€ I guess.

Goal would be of course as always, developing something low-priced that fulfills an actual need.

Before I created this post I made some mandatory quick research of course, but I wasn't able to find something in this context that I would actually buy. If you have something like a link, I would really appreciate it.

This thread on the FLF was quite funny to read: Why did this product fail?

But anyway, thanks in advance.
Its a valid idea.
Ive thought about it as well since I was growing alot if things on my balcony and if you want to leave the home you have to find someone to water the plants, otherwise they die.
The thing is, the market for such a device is probably way too small to make the product viable.

Limitations(each more limiting the the previous one):
1. People who grow plants(not professionally)
2. People who grow plants which need frequent watering.
3. From those, people who actually leave their home for extended periods.
4. And from those, people who have no one to look after their plants and have a water source on their balcony or container large enough to hold water for a few days.

A large part of plant growing is the fun of taking care of the plants. Automation takes away from that. Its not something home growers are likely to do.
For me its a choice between a phone call to e friend and setting up a watering system which will cot me money, will require maintenence at some point and will require room to store. Its just no contest.

With a heavily restricted market and up against the convenience of a phone call, this idea will be born dead.
 
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Bombastik_80

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A large part of plant growing is the fun of taking care of the plants. Automation takes away from that. Its not something home growers are likely to do.
For me its a choice between a phone call to e friend and setting up a watering system which will cot me money, will require maintenence at some point and will require room to store. Its just no contest.

With a heavily restricted market and up against the convenience of a phone call, this idea will be born dead.
Yes I agree. Nothing you can get rich from I suppose. It would be a very small market to begin with, and you would take the fun-factor out of a hobby to some degree.

There had been two reasons why I've pursued this idea a little more seriously lately, therefore I was interested in other opinions/experiences with automation projects.

1. My friend who was usually watering my plants (and who kept my replacement keys for my apartment) wasn't available unexpectedly while I was on my vacation, what almost killed my plants hence vaporizing months of work. That sucked. TMF, page 253: "This sucks ..." :)

2. In an era of global pandemics, the desire for some convenient system of self-supply for a private person might be an actual need? Maybe one owns some acres of land a few kilometers away and want to grow vegetables without putting in too much work? Not sure about this one.

Anyway, when I'll find some time on one of my next weekends I will experiment further to get a more concrete idea about such a project.

Programming a python sequence which controls the I/O ports of a Raspberry is not that difficult.

Maybe I can use this thread to hold me accountable, I might not be the only one who learns something in the process :).
 
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Bombastik_80

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Maybe I can use this thread to hold me accountable, I might not be the only one who learns something in the process :).
So,

got hold of a cheap older version of the Raspberry Pi and it works properly. Could start right now with Python programming.

Have also a first idea for a low-cost electronic control (see sketch). Ordered already the components, let's see how good my first prototype works :). Feedback would be appreciated.

Ah looks like a fun project with potential :smile:.
 

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LordGanon

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So,

got hold of a cheap older version of the Raspberry Pi and it works properly. Could start right now with Python programming.

Have also a first idea for a low-cost electronic control (see sketch). Ordered already the components, let's see how good my first prototype works :). Feedback would be appreciated.

Ah looks like a fun project with potential :smile:.
Why didn't you go with an ESP32? Built-In WiFi, much smaller, two bucks...

If it's because you only know Python: Trust me. The C you need for an ESP32 is absolutely easy peasy.
 
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Bombastik_80

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Why didn't you go with an ESP32? Built-In WiFi, much smaller, two bucks...

If it's because you only know Python: Trust me. The C you need for an ESP32 is absolutely easy peasy.
Yes you are right, Raspy might be oversized. I think it is good for a first shot, to get a feeling for this project.

So here's the idea:

The guy who wants an automation for his plant watering just installs the app for the wlan remote access, installs a slim code (watering programs or whatever) on his Raspy (maybe already existent, this device is popular here in Germany) and plugs in the connector for the additional electronic (see sketch). Optional cameras/sensors etc. -> easy to implement with the GPIOs.

Afterwards he can go on his 3 week vacation, respectively doesn't need to be physically present any longer and can let his tomatoes grow.

(Of course you can develop it fully automatized as well with many humid sensors etc. without a need for a remote control).

Yeah, nothing groundbreaking or spectacular, but maybe cheaper/more comfortable than other solutions -> at least that is the goal.

Most challenging for me is indeed programming the app for the remote control (never created apps), though there are apparently many prefabricated solutions already out there that I might just have to tailor.

I know some C++ (programmed a little robot a couple of years ago), but no Python so far :clench:. But I've planned to learn that language anyway, so this project is a good pretext to do it :).
 
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Bombastik_80

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So I am quite enthusiastic about this small project.

I built a small circuit board today (according to the sketch I posted), and it seems to work.

For the case someone is interested: the board consists of two transistors BD243C (0,30€ each), an UA741 amplifier (1,50€), and two 100 Ohm resistors (0,1€ c each). So with the wiring you have a price of around 2€-3€.

Here is a demo:

View: https://youtu.be/KZcAzOEf4Ws


The output port of the Raspy needs of course some intelligence (now it is just permanently switched on with 3,3 V), so, as said, the next step is to implement that intelligence via python.

Hopefully I can make an update of this thread soon.
 
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LordGanon

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Yes you are right, Raspy might be oversized. I think it is good for a first shot, to get a feeling for this project.

So here's the idea:

The guy who wants an automation for his plant watering just installs the app for the wlan remote access, installs a slim code (watering programs or whatever) on his Raspy (maybe already existent, this device is popular here in Germany) and plugs in the connector for the additional electronic (see sketch). Optional cameras/sensors etc. -> easy to implement with the GPIOs.
I'm also from Germany.

I get the feeling you're not accomplishing what you want to do. Making it dependent on external devices someone maybe has or doesn't have at home is overcomplicating things. It has to be a one-device, one-button solution. Pump, sensors and computing unit integrated. Stick in, install the app, push the button, beep. That's absolutely doable.
 

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this thing?

You already built a prototype so I think the question now is whats the market look like and how big a slice of it can you reasonably expect?

I am bullish on your idea simply because I think IoT will engulf everything in the next ten years but I do worry about the barrier of entry angle (then again, you DID build a prototype)
 

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Just here to give some customer PoV since I do not understand anything on the technical side... as someone following and checkin on the r/indoorplants subreddit very often, "plant moms/dads" are a thing and each of their plants is a single important member. I'm talking they upload pics with their whole collection--ahem-- "plant family" to flex on Reddit.

So that said, would it be one device per plant? Because if you own three or four you might not care much to get one of these, but to the people that have 50 plants in an apartment, this could have a lot of potential, I feel, if you could have them group them somewhere before they leave or something like that. Don't only target people with balconies, see if you can have it water it without too much spill on the floor by putting someone underneath.

Note on this: A lot of people seem to have the smaller ones displayed on shelve units, you could make one that is like a shower of sorts, like the way the supermarket sprays the plants from above?

Another thing is that when you water a plant, some of it comes through the drainage holes in the pot, and the plant shouldn't be sitting in water or the roots will rot. So I don't think they would appreciate watering their plant and then seeing them over a puddle, for the plant OR their floors.

You could put the demo video on the subreddit and see what feedback comes up. Make sure you don't sound advertising anything, Reddit hates that. Make the title something like "I made this to water my awesome monstera while I'm away this weekend, what do you think?!" And see what they say. I bet they will give you a lot of ideas to improve it to their liking.



And finally some devil's advocate: Not sure how effective it is but there are self-watering pots and the ol' trick of putting a cord on the pot and the other end on a full bottle of water. You'll have to make the product better than that.
 

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And finally some devil's advocate: Not sure how effective it is but there are self-watering pots and the ol' trick of putting a cord on the pot and the other end on a full bottle of water. You'll have to make the product better than that.
That's a very fair point. I always say "never ever make anything electrical that you can accomplish by means of mechanics", but it seems like no manufacturer or consumer is willing to listen.
 
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[
Just here to give some customer PoV since I do not understand anything on the technical side... as someone following and checkin on the r/indoorplants subreddit very often, "plant moms/dads" are a thing and each of their plants is a single important member. I'm talking they upload pics with their whole collection--ahem-- "plant family" to flex on Reddit.

So that said, would it be one device per plant? Because if you own three or four you might not care much to get one of these, but to the people that have 50 plants in an apartment, this could have a lot of potential, I feel, if you could have them group them somewhere before they leave or something like that. Don't only target people with balconies, see if you can have it water it without too much spill on the floor by putting someone underneath.

Note on this: A lot of people seem to have the smaller ones displayed on shelve units, you could make one that is like a shower of sorts, like the way the supermarket sprays the plants from above?

Another thing is that when you water a plant, some of it comes through the drainage holes in the pot, and the plant shouldn't be sitting in water or the roots will rot. So I don't think they would appreciate watering their plant and then seeing them over a puddle, for the plant OR their floors.

You could put the demo video on the subreddit and see what feedback comes up. Make sure you don't sound advertising anything, Reddit hates that. Make the title something like "I made this to water my awesome monstera while I'm away this weekend, what do you think?!" And see what they say. I bet they will give you a lot of ideas to improve it to their liking.

And finally some devil's advocate: Not sure how effective it is but there are self-watering pots and the ol' trick of putting a cord on the pot and the other end on a full bottle of water. You'll have to make the product better than that.
Hi,

thanks very much for your good input. I'll write a comprehensive reply to this thread when I've actually created the code for my Raspy and (hopefully) my app.

Then I'll also create a better demo-video in order to get kind of a "reality-check" if this device might offer some value for a more ambitious plant grower.

But here is the mechanical part of my watering. This yet primitive network is basically very easy to scale for the case you have scores of plants (you can do that through cascaded T-fittings for example - very cheap).

View: https://youtu.be/3ShdWZb70hI
 
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So here is just another video about the progress with this little project (I deleted the older videos).

I am not quite sure if this thread generally fits in with the purpose of this sub-forum. But if not I can open a new thread in the "Process/Execution" subforum (or I post less frequent, for the case it is not really interesting for anyone).

Again, here is the goal of this project:
"Automatic plant watering" plug&play 100€ (or less) system; remote control via App with the option to automate it entirely; hydraulically scalable; it must be easy to handle for a non technical-savvy person.

View: https://youtu.be/qCdcb1ewRvQ


Further information about the prototype:

Integrated now:

>Pump (20€, 12l/min) and rudimentary mechanical water distribution (hoses, T-fittings, around 20€)
>Switching on/off the pump via Raspberry Pi (50€) GPIO-ports (+additional electronics, 3€) and a simple python sequence
>Switching on/off the pump via Floating switch (3€)
>Check Status of Raspberry Pi via App within home wifi

Missing:

>Remote control via App outside home wifi Camera and humid sensors (optional)
 

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So now I can control the system via (third-party) app what is a further step forward.

The sequence is (just for demonstration purposes):

Switch on 20 seconds
Switch off 20 seconds
Switch on 20 seconds
Switch off

View: https://youtu.be/ddT5wX0eu2A


Still just nerd stuff of course.
 
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MrRobot

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Hi
I have some bonsai trees and needed a solution to substitute sunlight with artificial light. I used a raspberry pi for scheduling the lights (turn on and off, simulate sunrise, sunset) and philips hue lightstrip. I wrote some python scripts myself so the pi can communicate with the lightstrips and set the light color (this is important for a bonsai and for plants in general). OK this solution is not cheap but that was not my goal as I did not think about selling something like that.

You might rethink your product idea and your audience. You could sell a complete solution which involves a led light and a watering + fertilizing system.

As for your potential customers: A bonsai tree might cost thousands of dollars and its not always easy to care for one. This might mean that you can work with higher margins (not sure about it, I have no idea about sales).

Another type of potential customers: Smart farming is already a popular topic and many startups / big companies are working on it. But maybe all these companies only thought about large scale farming. What about the smaller size family farms? Maybe there is a niche there?
 
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Another type of potential customers: Smart farming is already a popular topic and many startups / big companies are working on it. But maybe all these companies only thought about large scale farming. What about the smaller size family farms? Maybe there is a niche there?
Yes, I guess that is the niche I should aim at.

The danger I see with this project is that it evolves either towards some weird nerd stuff or the device becoming just too expensive.

Downsizing (or replacing) the Pi should be possible when I gained some experience with the prototype. A price between 50€-80€ (or even less) could be doable, expensive are quality hydraulic parts (especially for outdoor applications where water can freeze etc.) and rather not the electronic components (the transistors must be of better quality because he pump needs around 1.5A).

As for the SW/Apps it appears easier as I'd originally thought since there are many off-the-shelf solutions already out there that you can use/tailor. Don't need profound programming knowledge.
 

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The danger I see with this project is that it evolves either towards some weird nerd stuff or the device becoming just too expensive.
I would happily throw $100 each at a small self contained system as a gift for the Green thumb people in my life at Christmas time. Even without an app so my hippie dad can use it with his flip phone!! And the brown thumb people who are always killing plants??? Heck yeah. I’ve farted around with just enough arduino stuff to debate a home brew kit for my own dead hot pepper plants. The very trendy organic hipster crowd....
Make it cute, make it fun.
 
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Made some research the last days and found a lot of really interesting and advanced stuff, this for example:


View: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=O_Q1WKCtWiA



In my own project I am struggling with the design of my circuit board at the moment, which is quite poor actually. Will take some time.

I guess it takes 2-3 months until I have a really good prototype (can only work on this project on my weekends). I'll try to keep this thread updated.
 
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I've made some improvements with the electronic assembly (FETs instead of BJTs). The design is simpler (i.e. cheaper) and the power consumption is lower now.

Uploaded a video, but there isn't much new to see tbh. The pump consumes 1,8A (like before). If I opened the hydraulic valve completely it would flood my balcony quickly :-D. So enough water for all the thirsty plants available.

View: https://youtu.be/LmtN2vq1q2w


One of the other issues was install a VPN for a "real" remote control. I want to switch on/off the pump from outside my home wifi, take a look at sensors values, have a look with an optional camera etc.

Hm. I am rather ignorant about network engineering, but installing the Pi VPN server on my Raspy was not so difficult (just time-consuming). Updating the configuration settings for my router seemed to work as well, but I wasn't able so far to get my app to work with the client certificates.

Now thinking about it, I am not sure if this exactly the way I want to go anyway. It seems too complex.

Updating router configurations (I have a so-called "Speedport" which is not really a user-friendly device), installing VPN certificates on one's smartphone, configurating DNS, IP-adresses etc.

This is not what an average user wants I guess. There must be better and more convenient solutions, without the VPN stuff.

Maybe it should be automized entirely, with a timer switch, sensors etc. Similar to the other video I've posted. And initial configuration of this via app within home wifi. But no control or supervision from outside.

Not sure, Several possible directions. Have to think about it. Next prototype might be with moisture sensors. There are enough I/O ports in the Raspy to do this :-D.
 

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Setting it up the way you envision (full remote control outside the home) is definitely possible to do, for an embedded system it might be easier to code another device (ESP32 or another low power chip with wifi capability) other than a raspberry pi due to the OS complicating things. However if you choose not to go that way and focus on only controlling one device when you're nearby then BlueTooth is probably your best bet. There are other methods such as Zigbee which could allow you to do mesh networking (to control multiple seperated devices at once) which would really help you market it as a modular solution to fit any type of garden. The chips are pretty cheap too.
As for market need, if it was fully automated so I could set and forget, then I for one would definitely be willing to pay for an effective, reliable and easy to use solution.
 

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