IoT – Internet of Things or Internet of Tomatoes?

There’s a lot of buzz these days about leveraging the internet and the ‘cloud’ for business — especially in the realms of product development. Phrases like Internet of Things (IoT), Machine 2 Machine, Product as a Service, Internet of Everything, Cloud Things, Connected Products and others get thrown around daily. Regardless of the term you use, the real intent of any of these IoT projects is to generate some additional value. That could be from more capability, deeper customer interaction, predictive maintenance, new revenue streams, market share, knowledge of how the product is being used or many other scenarios. I thought it would be fun to leverage it for gardening!

This time of year, there are a lot of northern gardeners are doing a dance with garden plants they’ve started from seed while winter was still rolling along. Now the seedlings want to be outside in the sun, but its too cold at night. The plants are getting crowded and too big to park in a window in the living room. Build a plastic tent outside as a make-shift greenhouse and it’s too hot during the day. So you’re left with shuffling the plants inside and outside to follow the spring sun and avoid a late frost. But how do you balance this while keeping your day job?

Our Makeshift IoT Greenhouse

Enter the IoT and a little project in our parking lot… With a little creativity, some parts we had around and a few extra parts from the thrift store, we built an ‘almost’ free greenhouse we can monitor through any web-browser. Our interest at first is simply to monitor the temperature, relative humidity and light level both inside and outside the greenhouse. It’s fun to see the values ebb and flow with the day and with the weather. This was achieved through an Ethernet connected Arduino wired to a photoresistor and a pair of DHT11 Digital Humidity and Temperature sensors. Currently the system feeds into ThingSpeak for graphical representation with plans to port it over to ThingWorx in upcoming days.

 

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Since the sun is hot this time of year but the cold weather isn’t over, we’ll likely experience some high temperature spikes and some cold nights that could damage the tomatoes. This brings up phase 2 — ‘control.’ Our near term plans are to have powered ventilation and heating to kick in either by reaching through the internet or with the internal controller. Eventually we’ll get to a fully autonomous greenhouse that manage temperature, have sensors in the soil monitoring moisture and turning on/off soaker hoses and misting fans all the while keeping us informed on a smart phone. Those are going to be happy tomatoes with their own twitter account…

Maybe all this tech and automation will take some of the fun out of gardening and fiddling with the plants to get it ‘just right’. What’s more likely is that it will just encourage the acquisition of more plants and the need for a bigger garden and a bigger greenhouse with more automation — but that would be fun too…

EAC Product Development Solutions is a Minnesota based company providing engineering and product development software, service and consulting to the discrete manufacturing industry. With 20 years of product development experience, EAC is seeking to help companies that desire to get more from their products through the IoT. We engage in all aspects of product strategy, product design and enabling technology to achieve those goals. Please contact Rob at rmiller@eacpds.com to find out more.