Quo Vadis ? Stories from a home laboratory


Balcony irrigation

A couple of years ago, I have installed the automated irrigation system in our apartment. After running this setup for an year, I have discovered some problems during the everyday operation:

  • due to the small capacity of the water tank, it was required to refill the tank frequently,
  • amount of water delivered to the plants was determined by time (averaged measured value I got with calibration) and was not accurate,
  • it was not possible to irrigate plants independently,
  • couple of times the whole water tank was used for single watering thanks to basic physics in action and lack of the valves.

In a meanwhile I have decided to automate the watering of the balcony plants as well, but also to fix the problems noticed in the first implementation.

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Homy & Roomba

Roomba has been in our home for some time now. You could even say it a part of the family; it is the liveliest piece of the furniture. We use it for cleaning our apartment and we are pretty happy with it. This cleaning device is a product of iRobot company and the model we have is Roomba 520.

Going around the Internet sites I stumbled upon a nice article about some hardware and software development that includes Roomba - RoombaDecTools. Next thing I dig out was a really nice document that describes technicalities about interfacing Roomba - Roomba Serial Command Interface (SCI) Specification. Everything was clear, a new home project was about to be born 🙂

Our Roomba

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Automated irrigation

After successfully monitoring the plants water levels and needs for some period now, it was finally the time to automate the process of watering as well. The idea was to implement a simple drip watering system with one single water source. Each of the three existing plants would be irrigated proportionally, based on its demands. During the period of couple of weeks, all necessary components arrived and the system was ready to be built.

The main part of the system is a water pump. This is a small 300 l/h submergible electric pump. This was good choice because of its low flow and the fact it can be easily put inside the water tank in the corner of the room.

Water pump

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Homy and plants

After having all the light bulbs in the house under control, I couldn't resist electrifying the rest of the household 🙂 I spent couple of days looking around the house, and finally found the next "thing" to experiment with. Couple of months ago my wife and me got a Dracaena tree. Since we had no experience in nursing the plants, we had some doubts about when and how often to water it. I decided to solve this problem in geeky engineering way.

After some online investigation on how to measure a "water level" for the plant, I came across some nice articles: How to make a cheap soil moisture sensor?Gypsum Blocks / Electrical ResistanceMoisture Sensor Prototype, ... It was clear I would need to build a gypsum sensors myself, since it was cheaper and more fun. After quick visit to the nearby hobby shop, all necessary tools and materials were at the table: nails, gypsum, thick paper...

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Homy is here

During the last couple of years, I was giving lots of thoughts to a fully automated house. Usually I was amazed by different ideas, usage of diverse technologies and concepts, but never tried to really apply some of these in my apartment. This changed couple of months ago, and after the first home automation project, I already have couple of more ideas.

It all started when I found this device in a shop nearby:

I spent couple of days mounting these guys all around my apartment. At the end, I presented three remote controls to my wife: one for living room, one for administration room and one for our bedroom. She was skeptic at first, but later realized the benefits.

After couple of weeks I couldn't resist from opening one of those remotes 🙂 What I found inside was HS1527 in the heart of the device. Next instinctive step was googgling for HS1527 remote control which led me to one really interesting discussion on JeeLabs webpage. There I discovered the magic device: JeeNode USB (v3):

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