Talented Tangrams: Sundara Raman engineers a smart irrigation system

Published May 3, 2021   |   
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A snapshot of Sundara’s terrace garden

Many of our Crayons are currently #AloneTogether, as they continue work from home. And some of them have come up with ingenious ways to help cope with the prolonged lockdown. Sundara Raman does so by taking on an interesting home project to help solve an age-old home-owner problem: when do I need to water my plants?!  

Here’s his story, as he explains how the project not only saved his terrace garden, but helped him stay motivated at work as well:   

I was feeling very low a few weeks ago and took a day off from my routine work schedule. I instead did some work on my backyard (or should I have to say front yard since it is right in front of my house). I have setup a small garden in my terrace over the course of year and half. And whenever I go to my home town, depend on my neighbour or the house help to water my plants while I’m awayThe last visit out of town ended with the loss of five plants. ? 

Home experiments 

This incident affected me quite a bit. I was thinking how to be selfsufficient in terms of watering the plants. A lot of the online readings and videos I referred to suggested installing a drip irrigation system for my terrace garden.

However, what no one discussed was the fact that a simple drip irrigation system was not enough when it comes to terrace garden. You still need way to start and stop the system, otherwise you run the risk of either drying your plants with less water or over-watering them. The systems that are available in the market work based on timer. The challenge with timerbased irrigation system is that we will need to reset the timer based on the season. For example, in summer we need to water the plants at least once or twice a dayBut during the rainy season we do not have water them daily, weeks even. Hence, we need an intelligent system that can understand when to water the plants and when not to. 

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A prototype Sundara’s smart irrigation system

So, I did a little digging on what kind of artificial intelligence we can include to the drip irrigation so that the entire system will selfwater the plants based on their need. little research into sensors guided me to DHT11, for monitoring temperature and humiditysoil moisture sensor will monitor the water content present in the soil. Multiple visits to the shop helped me procure the necessary hardware parts. I took my old raspberry pi (my ultimate savior for when I wanted to convert my television and photo frames to smart devices) and connected the parts together. The soil moisture sensor acts as a guide to the raspberry pi for when to trigger the watering. The temperature and humidity sensor helps in understanding the weather condition and to regulate the amount of water that needs to be supplied. 

Making it sustainable

I still consider it as only Phase 1 of the entire home-based project. I have plans to improve this setup further to make it a smart drip irrigation system. I go by the concept that selfsufficient is the best mantra. Hence, I want my entire system to be selfsufficient in terms of generating energy to run this entire setup. And solar energy is the best source considering the climatic conditions in Chennai. Also, in my experiments, I’ve noticed that it is not necessary to have a strong raspberry pi lying in the middle of the plants to regulate the entire setup. Instead, we can take help from other electronic items such as ESP8266, NRF24l10 in order to go completely wireless. A simple Arduino board or Micro.bit is sufficient to regulate the entire system. And a solenoid valve will help in regulating the tap 

Staying self-motivated

At the end of the day when I was able to complete this project, I had a sense of accomplishment. This has helped me motivate myself and take up my work with more confidence.  

I felt that my story can help others who face similar situation some ideas around how to motivate themselves.