#146 - The First Soil Moisture Sensor for Universal Access
The Sprinkler Nerd ShowNovember 24, 202321:0319.27 MB

#146 - The First Soil Moisture Sensor for Universal Access

Andy: Hello, all you listeners out there in podcast land. I hope everybody's having an amazing day after Thanksgiving. This episode is going out to the world on Friday, which is the day after Thanksgiving. So I hope everybody had an awesome, relaxing end of season, sort of speak in our world and a season day after Thanksgiving.

And this is, we're coming into a big week next week, which is the annual irrigation conference called the IA show. Technically it would be the irrigation association annual conference and at the conference, I will be. Not at a booth or anything formal, but demoing some technology that I've been working on for this last year, which is a long range wireless soil moisture sensor.

And if you are able to join us Tuesday evening, which is the night before the show, I will have plenty of sample. And for those interested to join the beta group, some beta devices. And I thought. What better way to prep for next week than to have another discussion with my good friend, Paul Bassett, who has been helping to advise on the development of the sensor [00:02:00] and, uh, the entire, uh, let's call it a project, the entire project.

So Paul, welcome back to the podcast. Oh,

Paul: thanks for having me, Andy. And I can't wait to be one of the first beta users and testers of of this technology. It's been something that our industry's been needing for. Since its inception. So this is going to be one of those technologies that hopefully everyone's going to embrace because it's now going to have the soil moisture sensing, right?

In the palm of your hands.

Andy: That's good in the palm of your hand. When, while he's saying Paul saying that I have one in the palm of my hand and what's pretty awesome too, is I would say you are one of our industry's beta testers. You know, there's a probably just a handful, maybe there's more than a handful, but there's a few people that have always had a liking to test new products and seek out new products in just that early adopter sort of way.

And you are definitely one of them. And this is not your first time, this will not be your first time beta testing soil moisture sensors because you've actually been testing them for, you know, 20 years at this point. At least

Paul: 20 years for sure. And I remember when, when baseline. First came out with their control system and their soil moisture sensors.

And I was ecstatic back then and still to this day on how the technology works. And I really like the taking the wired soil moisture sensor readings and converting it over to now a wireless reading, which is just phenomenal being able to transmit. Out of the ground, what the soil moisture is without a

Andy: wire and to be able to try to connect the dots, so to speak, in terms of hand.

No, it just rained. Let me quickly check my app and [00:04:00] see what that did to the soil profile, right? Or, you know, we adjusted some run times. I had the crew adjust some run times. Let me take a look at the app and see what that did to the moisture profile. I think that most of the time when we set a schedule on a controller, start time, run time, day of the week, it's an educated guess, right, using whatever tools we have ability at that moment in order for us to determine what the run time should be to apply the right amount of water.

But there is never been really a tool, I shouldn't say never, there are some, but there's not a universally available tool that anyone could use to then see the results of. What did that adjustment from 30 minutes to 45 minutes look like, or from one hour to 30 minutes? What is it actually doing to the soil?

There isn't a universal tool available that anyone can use easily and affordable to start learning.

Paul: And I like what, what you've done by taking on this particular project and Finding the latest technology that's available and using the, that technology and intertwining it with soil moisture sensors, specifically, most folks aren't really aware of, you know, how this frequency transmits and how it was received and how it gets moved from the device into the palm of your hand.

Why don't you tell us how that

Andy: works? Yeah, there's a stack. We won't go right now all into all the details, but there's a stack of of different technologies that when you stack it together, the data basically passes through the stack and it is delivered to you in the web browser on the phone or the computer.

So the device pings through a gateway, either private or public. Then it goes up to a network server and the network server passes it to an application server. Then the application server is what pushes it to the U. I. So one data point, one point of moisture has to pass through all [00:06:00] those little channels along the way in order for the user to then see it on their device.

And that's been, uh, I wouldn't say it's a challenge, but it makes what seems, it makes what seems so simple, actually quite technical under the hood. It is

Paul: very technical under the hood, Andy, for sure. And the way you describe it.

Andy: Yeah, and you gotta sort of learn each of those, each of those, you have to learn each of those, um, pieces of technology.

Because it's not just one of them. And so one of the things that I've done is, you know, gathered a group of people together, i. e. you as one of the advisors and, uh, and Nate as as an engineer, uh, and then a whole slew of other people that are sort of experts in their line of work. So it might be it's the network server developer, or it's the application server developer, or it's the hardware engineer, or it's the application developer.

Um, you know, designer of the actual, uh, capsule, if you will, the hexagon. So there's kind of had to have been a T there's a whole team that's sort of working on this project, uh, to move data from the ground all the way up to the cloud or right into the palm of your hand. And what I think is pretty awesome.

Is that where we, where we've landed started from an idea, you know, that you and I shared back in the spring where we kind of said, man, what would it, if sole moisture sensors were easy, what would that look like? And that's where we came up with this, you know, scan it, drop it, connect it. You know, you don't have to call anyone.

You don't have to activate anything. You can just. Scan it, drop it and connect it. And, you know, so what people will, we'll see is that that is the trying to make it easy for the everyday person has been our goal and both affordable, [00:08:00] affordable and easy for the everyday person. So you can just. Grab one out of your truck, scan it, drop it, add it to your account, and you're off and running.

Paul: Andy, it's phenomenal to hear that because it sounds like it's something that's been really needed in our industry to be able to have something this easy to deploy that it sounds like almost everybody could use it. It's not just for the professionals. Is that right?

Andy: That's that's the goal. You know, there are products out there that have 10 X 100 X.

The capabilities of what what I've been building because the The point of what I've been trying to build is something that's for everyone. Not something that is extremely scientific, not something that's research grade, not something that has to be connected to a control platform, but just a soil moisture sensor for the everyday user so they can have the tool to learn.

So they can have the tool to see what happens as a result of their watering patterns. And I really think that that's a missing, a missing piece is that we don't, we are not able to connect the dots on what happens when you apply the water. We apply the water and then we We imagine what happens to it, and then we make some assumptions based on the health of the plant material.

If the plant material is not healthy, then we make another assumption of I either over watered or I under watered, but we don't have a good tool to actually learn about the health. The application or precipitation rate, you know, and as it relates to the runtime on what you do. And so I think that, you know, somebody might say, I don't know really where I want to use this sensor.

It's like, well, just go put it somewhere and you'll quickly have some data that will make you more curious. And you'll want to put another one in another spot because you'll get even more curious and then you'll start bringing in more data. You'll start learning and then you'll become. Over time, a better [00:10:00] irrigator because you have the, you know, cause and effect, so to speak,

Paul: and, and to one of the things that I've learned through the knowledge lab that you've been working on is that, you know, this, this information that you're displaying, you're putting it in a way that It's easy for people to see it and understand it and ingest it.

It's not in major graphs and very hard to see. So that's one of the things that I've really been encouraged about by the way that you're displaying the information on the application.

Andy: Yeah. Again, right. It's gotta be easy and understandable and ideally in the palm of your hand, you know, the sensor in the palm of your hand and the data in the palm of your hand and I'm pretty excited about, uh, The level, let's see, how do I say this, the, I'm pretty excited about the level that the application is at for beta, you know, I think that, um, you know, a lot of products come to market as beta and they really are at level one, you know, maybe it's just one, just one graph and it's very simple, but what, uh, What the users will see in the, in the first beta launch is actually a lot of additional features in the software, um, such as notifications, users can set up an email notification that if the soil reaches a certain threshold equal to or greater than equal to or less than, et cetera, they can get an email notification, uh, right in the beta, in the beta version.

That is a good,

Paul: you're right. I did when you showed that to me, I was like, wow, I mean, it doesn't feel like it's irrigation technology. It doesn't, it's so much different in the way that you're able to bring it into the irrigation field, [00:12:00] um, with this technology is, is really astounding.

Andy: And that's, it's interesting that you mentioned that because technology by itself would not be for any one industry because the technology is simply the technology.

And so in this instance, it's about taking the technology that's available in the, in the greater world. But then applying it to our industry, using it.

Um, you know, such like, uh, for instance, if the user would rather not have an email notification, but would rather have that notification run into a slack channel that they're on. That's totally possible. You know, we can send a notification when the soil moisture sensor reaches a certain threshold and send that notification through slack

Paul: and forgive me for being one of the older guys on this call, but I don't use slack and I don't even know what it is.


Andy: you use Microsoft's version of Slack, which would be called teams. Okay. Uh, even though they're different, they're similar Slack, you know, predates teams, but, uh, you know, Slack is like, is like a chat communication tool with additional features and threads, uh, similar to Telegram. I know you use Telegram Slack would be similar and used by, you know.

Used a lot by corporate America now to message with, with teams and update teams kind of like in a, uh, more efficient way than sending emails, sort of speak. And then how does it? Yeah, another modern tool, I guess. That's why I'm

Paul: mentioning it. Tell me when you say that, because, you know, again, how does it interact with this, this slack?

What do you, how do you

Andy: set this? Yeah, I mean, the beauty of slack is let's say you've got a group of 20 people on a slack channel. And they can all be notified in Slack channel if the soil moisture reaches a certain point, right? So it's just, you know, there's a million different types of examples like that, uh, where you can take data from one source connected to another source.

[00:14:00] Um, yeah.

Paul: And when you're talking again, it doesn't feel like we're talking irrigation and that's what I like about what you're doing is you're bringing in technology that's not within the irrigation field and you're tying it into our application. So. That's another thing which really amazes me that you've done.

Andy: Yeah, cool. Thank you. It'll be interesting. I'm really curious to see what users, number one, do with it. Where do they want to put it? What do they, what do they learn from it? What, uh, you know, what light bulbs go off for them that they didn't know before? And... Those kinds of insights will be helpful in order to, uh, improve, you know, the project, improve the product, the project to figure out which areas, you know, maybe need more focus, both from perhaps the data collection perspective, but also so that I don't have to assume what the users want.

Because we need the users to use it to tell us, you know, the reasons and the places and what they need so we can build that.

Paul: Well, you know, the use cases that I've started understanding when, when you came to me with this technology was that, you know, when I have a bunch of controllers out there and I'm manning to them and, you know, we have rain sensors on, they're supposed to shut them down when it rains.

But we really. The settings aren't great, and you don't really have any feedback loop on those on the, uh, the rain sensor. Like, I don't know what the rain sensor set at. Is it a quarter inch? Is it an eighth of an inch? Um, and then sometimes we have to rely on remote weather stations, and I don't really ever find trust those when it rains or doesn't.

So I really needed the ability to understand how the water is being applied at the site level. And I need to know when it [00:16:00] rains, what does the rain do to the moisture that I can shut the system down? So that's where I've been extremely interested in in these devices, having that capability and insight.

Into what happens not only when an irrigation cycle applies the water, but what happens when it rains and how long does that take that rain to get to the moisture level in the soil that I don't need to operate my irrigation system.

Andy: Mm hmm. Mm hmm. Yeah. I like just thinking about what you're saying. It's almost like, uh, those who are curious will really like.

We'll probably have a great experience with the sensor because it allows them to say something such as I wonder what happens when blank, you know, fill in the blank. I wonder what happens when it rained yesterday. What did that do? Which you don't have the visibility right now. Rain sensor clicks off, but it doesn't give you any data.

It's it's just a switch. But there's there's there's no data coming out of it. Speaking

Paul: of switches, I know you and I don't want to get ahead of myself because there's a lot of things that you talk about in your mind that goes on with With regards to what's next and what can you do, but I know you and I've had some discussions about, you know, having this sensor tie into a local like switch in the controller, like a rain switch where that you can suspend that.

irrigation cycle on the standard controller with a rain sensor type switch that connects directly to the application. Is that what I heard?

Andy: Right. Yep. Uh, yeah, we can hit that for a moment. So I think in any, as soon as, as soon as you have one idea and one idea becomes a product, then all of a sudden it unlocks more things.

Okay, great. We can measure the moisture, but then, well, how do we? Turn the controller off or keep the controller off. Well, we need something tied to the controller. Okay, what can we tie to the [00:18:00] controller? Well, we need some type of a receiver switch that can open and close the rain sensor terminal since that's the controllers, you know, external device connection.

So if we can open and close a rain sensor terminal, then we can. pause or suspend the controller. So, you know, the idea is, uh, and I guess I'll just share it is after, you know, after the, the, the hex moisture sensor is, you know, finalized beta, et cetera. Then the idea is to have a smart switch and a smart switch would be a universal controller adapter that can be used in combination with the soil moisture sensor or really anything else.

Potentially in the world that's connected to the cloud, whatever that device might be, we can connect it to our smart switch, I. E. And then connected to the irrigation controller. So you could suspend the irrigation for any other possible reason, because now the smart switch is connected to the cloud. So, yeah, keep your, uh, keep your eyes open for that one, guys, because that, that, the smart switch would work with or without a soil moisture sensor.

It may be the connection to the controller for a soil moisture sensor, but you could use it, you could just use it as a remote control off switch if you want. Now, now that I think about it,

Paul: well, Andy, I know, you know, all the things that you're thinking of there are extremely interesting to me, you know, I'm very curious with technology.

So I'm glad you're able to, you know, bring this to market, um, and take some of your ideas and it helped enhance and save water in the irrigation industry.

Andy: Yeah. Appreciate having the number one beta tester in my back pocket.

Paul: Well, I'm the one that's very curious.

Andy: Yeah, and so guys if you are curious and you're listening to this prior to the IA show it starts next week Uh, meet up with Paul and I, we're going to have, uh, you know, get some people together with OpConnect on Tuesday [00:20:00] evening.

Uh, and then again, you can join me at the baseline brew crew if you haven't registered for that on Wednesday. Uh, but Tuesday I'll have some, I'll have some beta units of the, of the sensor and the application. So if you want to get involved and participate and be curious and join in on the project. Would love to have you.

Yeah. Look forward to meeting anyone who wants to come out and say hello at the show.

Paul: Well, I'm anxious, Andy, for sure, to be able to get more of these out in the field and, and test them and see what's happening in my soils.

Andy: Cool. Right on. Well, thank you, Paul, for the little, uh, the little brain share, and thank you for your support and, uh, being a fantastic advisor, uh, to me and the project really appreciate it.

Paul:I'm probably your number-one cheerleader. There's no doubt about that.

Andy: Thanks, man. I'll see you. Next week and, uh, catch everybody else, uh, catch you guys next week on another episode of the sprinkler show. See ya