Mark Rosen & Bart Lewalski
Hello, and welcome to our project, the netAQUA networked irrigation controller, a product that addresses our “eco” concerns, both ecological and economical. Water is a limited resource that brings sustenance to our landscapes and lives, and we want to help make the best use of it. We are Mark Rosen and Bart Lewalski, the co-designers of the netAQUA, and we are presenting our product to the Kickstarter community. We see a huge benefit in getting feedback from motivated users, and we will be offering our backers the opportunity to be part of our team and directly influence the way that the netAQUA will meet their needs; more about that later.
WHAT IS IT?
The netAQUA is unlike any other irrigation controller that you may have come across. It is easy to use, intelligent, accessible worldwide for remote control, and able to harness the power of environmental sensors and Internet weather stations for automation. Gone are the confusing dials and buttons, and the associated limited functionality of the traditional controller. The netAQUA replaces these with a sleek graphic interface for your computer, tablet or smartphone. Plus, for those moments when you don’t have a web-enabled device, the netAQUA also has an intuitive menu-driven local LCD interface. It is environmentally hardened so that it is equally effective indoors and out. The netAQUA gives you an unprecedented level of control over your irrigation system, and a high degree of automation as well, all adding up to an environmentally conscious product that saves both water and money.
WHY DID WE DO IT?
When Bart bought his first house, the traditional irrigation controller that was installed in the garage had a big round dial and a bunch of buttons, but, of course, no instruction manual. It took a lot of trial-and-error effort to figure out what to do to change the programming, once winter arrived and it made no sense to water when it was raining. A few years later, a new house and the same problem: a controller with a big round dial, several buttons, and no instruction manual. The similarity ended there, however, as the programming concept with this device was completely different from the first. And again, great frustration until the beast was conquered. This pattern repeated for two more homes, compounded by the need to re-learn the basic programming approach in the fall and again in the spring. Since Bart did not generally change the programming except at season boundaries, it was easy to forget what to do with those obscure dials and buttons.
Mark had similar experiences through his own history of several homes. In addition, we helped some East Coast friends deal with broken pipes when they forgot to shut-off the irrigation before an unexpected cold snap. We just happened to be talking about our own recent experiences with changing irrigation settings and a thought popped up: “There must be something easier and better available!”
Well, it turned out there wasn’t. There were smart irrigation systems on the market, but for the most part, they were out of our price range, complicated, and designed to be used in commercial installations. Since both of us have worked in electronics and software design for years, an Internet connected solution did not seem that far-fetched. So we embarked on the exciting path to building the netAQUA.
ABOUT THE DETAILS…
The netAQUA 8D is a 9 zone irrigation controller with expansion capability. One of the 9 zones may be set to control a master valve or pump. The number of zones can be increased in 8 zone increments with the addition of Expansion Modules.
netAQUA features and benefits can be summarized in this way:
Now, let’s focus on a number of key features.
Networked Device: This is the key to the flexibility and connectivity of the netAQUA. The device has a full HTTP server built in, so it behaves just like any other networked device that you may typically access on your home network. There are no drivers to install on any of your computers, there is no need to access any external server, or pay any monthly fees. Just connect the netAQUA to your home or business network, check the IP address on the LCD display, type that in the address bar of your favorite web browser and the netAQUA Browser Interface launches with the Status page. Once there, all watering settings, including the configuration of various overrides, become a matter of selecting options and pressing the Apply button. The additional zones provided by the Expansion Module will simply appear as added tabs in the browser interface, and as we add functionality in the future, this interface will grow to reflect the new capabilities. And, of course, a networked device with Internet access means that it’s available for you from anywhere with a connected device and a web browser. Imagine being on a vacation in Europe when you find out that a heat wave hit your home city. You can open the web browser on your smart phone, access the netAQUA, and easily increase the watering times…Or, you can just let the netAQUA handle it automatically by configuring extended watering times in the event of a high local temperature.
Browser Interface and Local Interface: There are only a limited number of watering operations that can be programmed with the traditional dial/button interface. And, as mentioned earlier, since programming is usually done infrequently, the approach tends to fade in memory, and so the interface has to be re-learned every time. For a controller as feature-rich as the netAQUA, we knew that we could not rely on this type of interface to get the device programmed. The easiest way to use the netAQUA is through its browser interface. This intuitive control works in any web browser, and concentrates functions in logically arranged tabs. The netAQUA Browser Interface also contains your first level of help, with useful and descriptive information shown along the right side of all tabs. We realized, however, that there are instances when control through the browser interface could be augmented. For example, if you’re in your garden and notice that a drip location in a specific zone may be leaking, you want to momentarily turn-on that zone to check for the broken drip hose. You can do that through the netAQUA Local Interface, right at the device. We chose a pushbutton/LCD interface, with a hierarchical menu structure including help pages presented on the LCD, which provides an excellent alternative way to program the device on-site.
Local Sensors and Internet Weather Data: The netAQUA can obtain weather information from local sensors as well as from Internet servers, and can use this data to automatically modify the watering plan if more or less watering is needed, or if watering should not occur at all. The local rain sensor will act to shut off watering in the event that rain is detected. The local temperature sensor will act to increase watering on very hot days, to make sure that your plants get additional water when needed. Or, in the opposite case, the local temperature information can be used to prevent watering completely on cold days. If local sensors are not used, the netAQUA can get all weather information for your geographical area from an Internet server, and can function in a similar way to optimize watering.
Made for Outdoor Environment: You can install the netAQUA wherever it’s convenient. It can be installed outdoors just as easily as on a wall in the garage. A gasket kit is available to seal the front cover against rain and snow, and the electronics that are used in the device are designed to work over wide temperature extremes. This feature, combined with local temperature measurement and automatic watering override, means that you never have to worry about an unexpected freeze at your summer cabin, and what that might do to the irrigation system.
Expansion Capability: The netAQUA is designed to work with one or more expansion modules, each increasing the number of watering zones that can be controlled by eight. The netAQUA 8EM-8 Expansion Module (release Q3 2013) connects to the netAQUA through a daisy-chained communications interface, and once connected, becomes the slave to the netAQUA 8D master. All control settings exist and are affected at the netAQUA 8D, with no need to do anything at the Expansion Module. It is a plug-and-play set-up, with the additional zones covered by the Expansion Module simply added to the control interface at the netAQUA. The netAQUA then can easily control large irrigation patterns, including those found in community gardens, apartment complexes and other commercial applications. And, just like the main device, the Expansion Module is made for the outdoors.
WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?
Right now, we’re launching two versions of the netAQUA, the Deluxe and the Deluxe with WiFi. We’ve gone through a number of prototypes, and the current version is ready for the world. It’s been a long process for us, and it’s exciting that we’re finally at this stage. A couple of our earlier prototypes have been successfully running for over a year now. We plan to use the funds raised through Kickstarter to: 1. Transition the netAQUA 8D to manufacturing and complete the first production run, and 2. Complete the development of the netAQUA 8EM-8 Expansion Module.
The next item high on our wish list is development of remote access to the netAQUA using smart phone apps. While you can get the full benefit of the complete netAQUA Browser Interface opened in a web browser on the smart phone, a port needs to be opened in your home or business router to allow access by you from outside your premises. Opening a port, or port forwarding, is not a complicated process, and we’ve been using it successfully for a while now to access our test netAQUA systems. However, a smart phone app will negate the need to set-up port forwarding, making our device even simpler.
A WORD ABOUT THE PLEDGE LEVELS…
We created a range of pledge levels and rewards that cover the device ordering options, and also provide some inexpensive ways to share in our exciting project. Rewards that contain a netAQUA controller start at the $199 level. At all levels between $199 and $255, backers are Platinum eco-Team members with each subsequent level uniquely identified from +1 to +4. For the Diamond $5,000 level, one of us will travel to your destination and install the netAQUA for you. If you choose this reward, please make sure that you have an already installed irrigation zone system with all piping and valves verified. If an existing controller is in-place, we’ll replace it with the netAQUA. If you have further questions about this pledge level, please feel free to contact us.
And, as we mentioned earlier, all backers that select the $199 level or above will get a chance to actively participate in refining the netAQUA. While we believe that the rich feature-set of the netAQUA makes a compelling product, we know that the ultimate test is in the hands of the end-user. That’s where you come in. We would like to encourage you, the initial users of the netAQUA, to share the experiences that you have with the product, and to suggest improvements and new functionality to make the device the best that it can be. To this end, we will create special contact channels made available to the first 200 backers at the $199 and higher level, to get in-touch with us, the founders, to discuss your use stories, cases, and ideas. We expect this virtual team approach will yield great results.
And not to diminish the small stuff, it’s important to note that each equipment reward contains everything that you’ll need to get started with the device:
- The netAQUA with an integrated three foot power cord, which you can connect to a 24 VAC source.
- If you chose a reward level with the 24 VAC power brick, then this will be included as well. You can plug the power brick into any standard 110 VAC outlet.
- A six foot Ethernet cable, so you don’t have to scrounge around for one; they never seem to be around when you need them…
- A Quick Start guide covering the basics.
- A User’s Manual on CD-ROM and online for a detailed treatment of the netAQUA features and operation.
- A handy dual-ended screwdriver to remove and reattach the front cover, and to secure all wiring to internal connectors.
- Some tie-wraps to help organize the cables and wires inside the netAQUA enclosure.
AND WHO ARE WE?
You've probably already met us on the video, but if not, it’s time that we introduce ourselves. We’re Mark Rosen (MIT) and Bart Lewalski (Queen's University), the co-designers of the netAQUA and co-founders of the company behind it, Roslen Eco-Networking Products. We are engineers with decades of experience in the trenches of high reliability systems development while running a contract engineering company, Nexus Applied Research, Inc. We participated firsthand in the evolution of telecommunications from telephony to the Internet, and have great hope for what can be accomplished when an eco-conscious consumer device employs the power of network connectivity.
We hope that our presentation gives you a good idea about the netAQUA and its key advantages:
- Remotely accessible from anywhere in the Internet world
- Automatically adapts to changing weather conditions
- Super-easy to use
and that you will consider giving our project your support. We’re very proud of this product for all of its technical capabilities, but also because the netAQUA is good for the environment and can save you money. It’s rare when a product can do both. You can save precious water resources by irrigating just enough. Not so little that the landscape is damaged, and not so much that you are wasting water. This saves money for you indirectly in utility infrastructure costs and directly in volume usage charges for those of you on a metered water delivery system. With your backing, we are hoping to have the netAQUA family of products become a huge success. Thank you!
Manufacturing plan overview
The netAQUA has been built in prototype and pilot quantities. Here is the summary of key steps in the manufacturing plan for the transition to production quantities:
1. PCB manufacture to be done in China
2. Main board assembly to be done in Poland
3. Final assembly to be done at the Roslen facility in Auburn, CA
Now let’s have a more detailed look at each of the three main points above.
PCB Manufacture: We have partnered with a company in Shenzhen, China to produce the netAQUA main board Printed Circuit Boards. This manufacturer is a long-time PCB partner with a number of companies that we have worked with in the past, and they have provided excellent service to all of them. We have used them for a few prototype runs, and have discussed with them the upcoming higher volume production runs of the netAQUA board. They will completely test each unpopulated PCB to ensure that only fully functional PCBs are used for assembling the netAQUA systems.
They will ship the completed PCBs to one of our assembly partners in Poland.
Main Board Assembly: We have two partner companies in Poland that will provide the netAQUA main board assembly service. Both are located in the northern city of Gdansk in Poland. We have worked with both of these companies on numerous occasions, and used them for PCB assembly of the netAQUA prototypes, pilot run, and other projects for over a decade. Bart is a Polish national and has worked with both of these companies since the beginning of our co-operation. Once the boards are assembled, they will be fully tested for all netAQUA hardware functionality at the assembly facility. We will use both assembly facilities interchangeably or together, as required by a specific manufacturing load.
Completely assembled PCBs will be delivered to Roslen in Auburn for final system assembly and testing.
Final Assembly: System assembly and final testing will be done at Roslen in Auburn, California. The assembled netAQUA units will be fully tested to ensure that the final shipped product is fully functional.
Risks and challenges
There are some inherent risks to the first release of any new technology product. Problems may appear from faults in any of the three main stages of bringing a product from concept to fruition: design, test, and manufacture. The following factors will mitigate those risks:
Highly Experienced Team: The designers, Mark Rosen and Bart Lewalski, are engineers with decades of electronics product development experience. Our designs have been deployed and are working in millions of telecom circuits around the world, and we have applied our proven knowledge in the design of the netAQUA.
Established Engineering Practices: We know what it takes to design a hardware and software based system. We have followed the steps of the development process many times to a successful conclusion. We are using this proven process to design, test, and prepare the netAQUA for manufacturing.
Lab Testing: The netAQUA is being wrung out in the lab to insure reliable operation over environmental extremes.
Working Prototypes: The first netAQUA prototypes were tested over a year and a half ago, and there are prototype units that continue to run successfully for over a year. In fact, a netAQUA unit has been controlling the irrigation system at Bart’s house since February 2012. This and a number of other units have served as test beds for software and new features.
Use of Proven Technologies: The netAQUA uses only standard, off-the-shelf components. To mitigate supply chain problems, most of the components have multiple sources, and those that are sole-sourced are provided by well established companies with extensive histories as suppliers.
Established Manufacturing Processes: The netAQUA does not present manufacturing challenges. The size of the components and density of the layout was managed specifically to be well within the bounds of current mainstream manufacturing capabilities.
Manufacturing plan: We know every step of how we are going to manufacture the product with already established company relationships covering all phases of the product build and test.
With all of this being said, if setbacks do arise, the final and most important factor is our commitment to our backers, to keep you "in the loop", and to make the netAQUA a success for all of us.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
- (35 days)