Dripio: Smart Watering Technology
Wi-fi connected watering controller with smart valves to individually water and care for garden plants, beds and green fences.
Dripio: Smart Watering Technology
Wi-fi connected watering controller with smart valves to individually water and care for garden plants, beds and green fences.
And though the smart sprinkler controller scene seems to be vibrant, those of us who are not blessed with a well designed sprinkler system are left without any good tech to make our gardens smarter.
Even gardeners who have a sprinkler system often find it to be useful only to water lawns, but not the other garden plants - vegetables, ornamentals, trees, and shrubs. At this point everybody agrees that drip irrigation is the way to go, but sprinkler controllers are poorly suited to be drip controllers.
Dripio was created to fill that void. Our smart controller replaces the entire head assembly - that cumbersome, ugly looking contraption of parts attached to a hose faucet and required for any home drip irrigation system. Instead, you get a single beautiful device on the side wall of your home. Connect it with a short hose to your garden faucet, plug in, and it starts communicating via your home Wi-fi with a Dripio app on your smart device.
Watering is one of the most important day to day gardening activities, whether we do it all by hand or adopt tools and technologies to do it for us. It is also one activity that has the most harmful effect on the plants when done wrong.
We covered the seven most common watering mistakes in an e-guide "Seven Watering Mistakes and How to Avoid Them", available for download below.
Adopting drip irrigation eliminates the risk of making some of these mistakes, but not all. Using the Smart Dripio controller helps even further, but in order to completely eliminate the risk of incorrect watering we have created the Dripio Smart Valve.
Smart valves give you a potentially unlimited way to partition your garden into as many flexible, smart watering zones as you want. You can then set each zone to automatically water in its own unique way based on the specific plants for which it is responsible.
Connected to the Smart Controller, the Smart Valve knows what it waters, and is programmed to turn on and off on demand. As a result, each plant or group of plants gets exactly the amount of water they need!
The power and the data are being transmitted to each Smart Valve via a single coaxial cable using our patent pending Direct Current Power-line Communication technology that allows interconnecting practically unlimited number (65,536 if you absolutely must know:) of valves (today) and other smart devices (in the future!).
Dripio's smart controller is the heart of the system. It replaces the head assembly necessary for all drip irrigation systems connected to tap water supply such as home garden faucet.
Smart controller also serves as the communication hub for all smart devices (such as smart valves) connected to it via a coaxial cable. Coaxial wire that connects the devices of the system is used to transmit both power and data using our patent pending Direct Current Power-line Communication (DC-PLC) technology.
Here is the complete list of components making up the controller:
- Removable filter. The port on a side of the controller allows for easy extraction of the mesh screen for seasonal cleaning.
- Backflow preventer. An important component preventing any contamination from traveling back to the home water supply.
- Pressure regulator. Reduces water pressure to a standard 25 PSI (1.7 bar) ideal for drip irrigation.
- Solenoid valve. Turns the water on and off. It is equipped with emergency shut-off mechanism in case of power outage.
- Water flow meter. A sensor to measure the flow of water at any given time, and report it to the microprocessor.
- Pressure sensor. We decided to add pressure sensor after encountering an interesting problem at one of our test locations. It helps ensure proper pressurization of the output for cases with lower than usual house water pressure.
- Wi-fi unit. A microprocessor responsible for communication with the home Wi-fi network.
- DC-PLC (Direct Current Power-line Communication) unit. A circuit responsible for the communication between the controller and smart valves connected via coaxial cable.
- Coaxial ports. There are two coaxial ports on the controller that can be used to connect coaxial cables that follow the tubing into the garden. The ports are interconnected, so any one can be used to connect to the main line (or both at the same time).
The Dripio App
We've built a developer version of the app for the purpose of testing all the hardware functions. A consumer version of the app is currently being developed by our team with the goal of releasing it around the same time as we begin the first shippings of rewards..
Smart valves are what makes the Dripio system so efficient. Each valve is a waterproof, dirtproof, and weatherproof device placed at the head of a "smart zone" - a subsection of your irrigation tubing that is responsible for watering a specific plant or group of plants.
When it is time to water this plant/plants, the controller will send a command for the valve to open and start watering. While watering, the controller records the amount of water dispensed, and once this amount reaches the planned goal it tells the valve to shut off.
This way you ensure that your plants get the exact amount of water they need. For example, if one of your smart valves controls the watering of a raised bed with 18 tomato plants, then during the regular watering season the valve can be instructed to dispense 18 gallons of water each morning at 5 am (a gallon per plant), unless it rained.
Here is the complete list of components making up the smart valve:
- Solenoid valve. Turns the water on and off. The valve is latching, so it does not consume power during "open" session.
- DC-PLC (Direct Current Power-line Communication) unit. This is the "slave" version of a circuit responsible for the communication between this smart valve and the controller it is connected to via coaxial cable.
Coaxial ports. There are two coaxial ports on each smart valve. We decided to give each valve 2 ports to allow connecting valves to each other in a daisy chain.
Each smart valve comes with two fittings: a male hose to compression fitting (to connect to the input port of the valve) and a fitting of your choice out of four kinds that we offer.
The valve is really easy to install. It has a female hose input port and a male hose output port, making it easy to connect to hoses and hose-based watering fixtures. Perma-lock fittings (see above) are perfect to connect the valve to drip tubing.
Once connected, the valve begins communicating with the controller and will appear in your Dripio account. You can use the Dripio app to complete the setup of the valve and activate it for watering.
Coaxial cables provide the valve with power and transmit data, using our patent pending Direct Current Power-line Communication technology (scroll down to learn more about the technology and ways to work with coaxial cables).
Using Smart Valves
A typical drip irrigation system has a head assembly and a drip tubing (the main water line) with watering fixtures (drippers, soakers, misters, mini-sprinklers etc) placed by the plants they water. A Dripio system is designed in a similar fashion, but with a few considerations.
First, as we already know, the head assembly is replaced by Dripio smart controller. Then, before running the main drip line, it is important to decide how the garden will be partitioned for the purpose of smart watering. For example, each vegetable bed can be partitioned into its own "smart zone", the trees and shrubs can be partitioned each into their own "smart zone" or grouped into one "smart zone" (for example a row of arborvitaes or laurels can be watered as a single group).
Then, the drip line is connected to the smart controller and run, with the line branching out and a smart valve installed at the head of each "smart zone".
Finally, a coaxial cable is attached to the controller and run along the tubing (we recommend tying it together with zip ties or staking with garden stakes.). The cable connects smart valves to the controller and each other in a daisy chain.
If you have a large and diverse garden but only a few smart valves available at the time of installation, we recommend partitioning your garden in such a way that the last valve controls the section loosely called "the rest of the garden" until such time that more valves become available to partition that section into more smart zones.
Let's say you have 3 garden beds with vegetables and a few fruit trees and ornamentals. You have 5 smart valves immediately available to use, so we would partition your garden as follows:
- Valve #1: watering the first garden bed,
- Valve #2: watering the second garden bed,
- Valve #3: watering the third garden bed,
- Valve #4: watering the apple tree,
- Valve #5: watering "the rest of the garden"
We plan to post several articles describing the best ways to design watering infrastructure to maximize the benefit of Dripio smart watering system as a whole. In the future we also plan to have customer support team to personally assist Dripio clients with better understanding how to partition their specific gardens.
Measuring Water Flow
Since the system has only one water flow meter at the controller level, we use a complex algorithm to calculate the exact amount of water dispensed by an individual valve during any given watering session.
Since each valve can be activated separately from all other valves it makes it easy to measure the flow of water through this valve. To make the system more robust we designed it to be able to open several valves at the same time, and use the difference in overall flow to calculate the flow through each valve.
The flow of water through each valve depends primarily on the kind and quantity of watering fixtures (drippers, soakers, misters, mini-sprinklers etc) attached to and controlled by this valve. Finally, each watering event gives us a unique measurement, and our algorithm uses these measurements to better calibrate the flow of water through each valve.
The story behind the technology
Originally, the idea was to design a smart valve to be wireless. It made sense, since technology in general is gravitating away from wires. It would have powered itself by harvesting and storing solar power, and communicate with the controller using its own Wi-fi module.
When we pitched this idea to one of our friends who is both a gardener and a hardware engineer, he objected, saying that his garden is too far away from his house to have good Wi-fi coverage...and instead suggested to run a landscaping wire, that will deliver both the power we needed, and be used for communication.
This is how we learned about PLC - power-line communication concept. However, after doing deeper research we were disappointed to discover that it was used mostly in AC applications. There were no DC equivalents available on the market, so we decided to invent it.
Fast forward several months and we have a patent pending communication technology, powering Dripio smart valves. After long deliberation we decided not to use landscaping wire but use coaxial cables instead (for a number of reasons - among them: lower cost, better signal quality, and eliminating the risk of connecting wrong wires).
The biggest upside of abandoning the wireless design was cost - our smart valve costs at least half of what it would have cost being wireless. Other advantages are higher reliability of both communication and power supply, no "problematic" components such as lithium batteries, longer useful lifespan, no additional paper-work associated with radio-emitting devices (and no extra radiation), and generally much less technical complication.
And of course, having a power+comm wire running along the tubing means amazing opportunities in adding more smart devices to the system, beyond just watering. Scroll down to discover future ideas enabled by our PLC technology (under A Glimpse Into The Future...) .
Direct Current Power-line Communication (DC-PLC)
Typical irrigation valves (such as sprinkler valves) are connected to their controller with individual wires that are used to turn them on and off. Dripio uses DC-PLC technology to connect ALL valves using a single wire.
In short, DC-PLC allows transmission of data over a direct current, 2 conduit line. Our system operates using a 12V DC, a very safe voltage that is typically used in landscaping lighting. The controller serves as a "master" and is responsible for majority of communication on the line. Smart valves act as "slaves" and are capable of responding to "master's" requests.
It was possible to use a 3 or 4 conduit wire, and avoid the complication of PLC, but we recognized a number of problems adopting any wire other than a 2 conduit wire, all having to do with marketability of such solution.
These included: the cost and availability of wire itself, the added complexity and added risk of connecting wires, By using a coaxial wire we solve all these problems, and end up with an elegant product that is easy to connect and disconnect.
How to work with coaxial cables
Since we opted to use coaxial cables, the big question was: would the consumers find it too cumbersome to install the wiring. As we learned ourselves working with coaxial cables is not hard at all, provided all parts fit. We tested several samples of each part, from cables to connectors and tools, and found the best combination to work with.
The only real "work" when it comes to coaxial cables is connecting the waterproof F-connectors to the cable itself. To connect one F-connector we first strip the cable's end with a coax stripper, then attach the connector by sliding it down the stripped cable, and then use the crimper to crimp it tight to the cable. When everything goes smooth it should take no more than 30 seconds to attach one connector to the cable.
Once connected, the F-connector then can be simply screwed onto the destination port. We will also supply the customers with F-type splice couplers and splitters, to allow for different situations that could occur during installation.
Before shipping the rewards to our backers, we will publish several videos with demonstrations and tips on how to work with coaxial cables. And of course, all our kits come with the necessary tools to get the job done.
We started working on Dripio some time in December 2016, and by the gardening season of 2018 we already had five successfully working controller prototypes installed in different gardens in Portland and Seattle area.
Meanwhile we invested our resources into both perfecting the design of the smart controller and developing our smart valve, all connecting using our novel communication technology. By the end of the summer of 2018 we had half a dozen smart valve prototypes, communicating on a single data bus with the smart controller, as well as necessary software and firmware to support it all.
We are now ready for the final step - manufacturing the actual product and shipping it to our amazing backers!
In this campaign we are focusing on the main objective - the smart watering. But our plans (and fantasies) for Dripio extend way beyond just watering - in the future we see it becoming the complete gardening assistant.
Besides watering, Dripio will make it easier for you to give your plants all the love they truly deserve. We envision a range of add-ons that will fertilize each plant according to its individual needs, even spray the trees and shrubs following seasonal cycles. And since our customers will install many feet/meters of a power+data infrastructure, we see opportunities in such areas as smart garden lighting, disease and pest control, garden and soil monitoring and more.
Let the future of smart gardening begin now!
With your support in bringing Dripio to the masses, we will be able to purchase parts in larger quantities, and also use funds to purchase tooling to mold enclosures and custom parts. All that helps us lower costs going forward and will help Dripio get off the ground to bring you more interesting gardening solutions in the future.
Of course you can also help us get the word out! By sharing our project with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, you're helping us get closer to making Dripio a market reality, and certainly are helping the gardeners among your friends to be the early adopters of this much needed technology.
We are forever grateful for your assistance in spreading the word!
It is critical that you enter your correct, valid address when placing your order. If our shipping carrier attempts delivery to you and you don't get it because you’re not there, wrong address or moved without notifying us, and the package returns back to our warehouse, it will be the buyer's responsibility to pay the shipping fee to reship the order. When you receive your tracking number, please keep an eye out for the package.
We have invested time and effort to research costs of shipping to various countries using major carriers based on the weight of our packages, and used the cheapest options to calculate your shipping cost.
CUSTOMS & DUTIES INFORMATION
The customs and import rules of your specific country is something you would know better than us, so before shipping your reward we will contact you to see if there are any special instructions necessary to ensure your reward passes smoothly through the customs inspection.
Our prices DO NOT include VAT, GST or other country taxes.
Our terms of sale for international orders are FOB destination. This means that you pay all freight and duties or taxes. As we are shipping these products all over the world, it is impossible for us to build in the various duties, VAT and GST tax for each location through Kickstarter.
If you would like to estimate your duties, we recommend using this online tool (remember to convert the U.S. dollars to your local currency).
For international customers who are required to pay customs, you will receive an email from your local customs authorities asking for payment to have your order processed through customs. Unfortunately, there is no legal way around customs (including marking an order as a gift, which we cannot do). Once you make that payment to the customs broker your order will be processed for final delivery.
Risks and challenges
Our team consists of seasoned hardware and software engineers. In addition, both Alex and Kevin are serial entrepreneurs with healthy records of success (and failure) to leave enough battle scars on their faces.
This experience taught us never to plan for success nor failure, but to plan for the task at hand. We rely on as little outside help as we can, leaving the core technology development and the key manufacturing in-house.
Fortunately, years of crowdfunding have accrued an abundance of valuable experience and advice, and we have dug through most of it to learn from the mistakes of others as much as possible. Here are some of the conclusions we reached that guide us in this campaign:
1. NO SWAG - "stuff we all get", like tee-shirts, mugs and the like. Gardeners need a good watering solution, and they already have all the tee-shirts and mugs they'll ever need. We want to focus all of our fulfillment energy on building and shipping the best product we can make, wasting no time on stuff not directly related to it.
2. NO PRODUCT CUSTOMIZATION - we crave your feedback on the product, but we will stick to mass production of the same smart valve and the same smart controller. For example, you can order it (the valve) in any color, as long as it's black. That being said, we perfectly understand that no garden was made the same, so we do encourage KIT customization - that is ordering as many smart valves as you believe your garden needs. More valves (and controllers) would become available after the campaign is funded and fulfilled, and we will offer generous discounts to our Kickstarter supporters.
3. ENSURING THAT OUR SMART PRODUCT OUTLIVES US - by now it is well known that smart products rely on the cloud to deliver their core value. That dependence has often been the biggest risk of adopting the product - if the cloud went down the product became useless. We witnessed some Kickstarter successes of the past becoming bitter disappointments as the product died together with the company. We position ourselves differently - our product must work as long as the hardware is working regardless of what happens to us, our company or our cloud. As such we designed its core functions to be cloud supported yet cloud independent.
4. MANUFACTURING - before running this campaign we have designed and manufactured several prototypes of both the smart controller and the smart valve. These are featured in our video and photos, and are currently deployed in several test gardens around PNW.
The prototypes were produced using part samples that we ordered from several manufacturers in the US and abroad. We made sure to get each part samples from two or more manufacturers, and researched their public record to ensure we are going to receive high quality products.
Based on this we prepared a detailed planning of production schedules, shipping and insurance costs and other factors that could potentially become unfortunate surprises and jeopardize our on-time delivery of the products to the backers, and ensured that we over-plan for these risks.
Special attention was paid to custom tooling for enclosures and some parts, and these costs and production times accounted for in our financial model as well as manufacturing plan. Our team has experience designing and producing custom parts and enclosures, so we are confident about our ability to face these challenges successfully.
5. QUALITY CONTROL - quality is everything. That's why we don't compromise on materials, and insist on quality checks at every step of the manufacturing process. A big part of quality assurance will be done in-house, before we ship the finished products to backers. And since our products are designed for outdoors we have insisted on gold-plating all electrical connectors that will be exposed to the elements.
6. PRICING TO DELIVER - we had to fight the temptation to offer sharp discounts for our backers. As much as we appreciate your support, we must be realistic as to the cost of delivering on our promises. Experience of others taught us that it could be easy to raise a big round of backers' cash by way of unrealistic promises, only to find yourself out of money and in a major pickle. To make sure we can deliver on our promises we have developed a comprehensive financial model, making sure to account for as many financial surprises as possible.
We are confident that by the end of our fulfillment we would not only have all rewards built and delivered, but we will also have some cash remaining to continue investing into software and building more physical units to sell to general public. It is called "kick-starter" for a reason!
7. INTERNATIONAL CUSTOMERS - we believe gardening is a world-wide phenomenon that should be celebrated and promoted. This is why we decided not to limit our campaign to US and Canada only, but open to backers from every corner of the world.
We are aware of the fact that your electrical systems can be different and even unique (hello Switzerland...), so we will offer our power adapters to be as universal as possible (but in some cases you might still need to use an adapter). Before shipping to your country we will make sure to enclose power supply with the right kind of plug and other electrical specs.
We recognize that it’s impossible to plan for every risk. That said, we are confident that given our team’s combined experience and skill set we can meet any challenges that come along and successfully complete the fulfillment of the rewards, with the long term goal of establishing a successful company in the process.
We also know how important it is to be kept in the loop. We plan to update our community of backers with steady flow of updates on all stages of the fulfillment, and communicate properly on all the good, the bad, and the unexpected.
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