Cheap, wireless, automatic backyard sprinkler control

This water-conserving technology could be as easy and effective as putting a brick in the toilet tank.

1 min read

Maybe it’s just because as the editors of IEEE Spectrum have lately been paying a lot of attention to the problem of water conservation, and the coming clash between water and energy, but right now any easy, inexpensive way to cut back on water usage seems like a good idea to me.

And Digital Sun, a startup company based in San Jose, Calif., purports to have such an idea (I have yet to try it for myself). They presented their product, at Launch: Silicon Valley, an annual conference sponsored by the Silicon Valley Association of Startup Entrepreneurs, held Tuesday, June 8, in Mountain View, Calif.

Digital Sun has developed a system that includes sensor that goes into a hole you cut in the dirt with a wireless receiver that you attach to your existing sprinkler control box. The sensor uses a proprietary wireless communications protocol over a very low power 2.4 GHz signal, sent through the dirt, to override the sprinkler timer if it’s due to start watering cycle already damp ground. Digital Sun CEO Dale Hitt explained the technology to me, in the video below.

Right now, the basic package—one sensor, the receiver, and a tool that cuts a hole in the ground for the sensor—retails for $200. The company attended the Launch conference in hopes of attracting enough venture investment to move their manufacturing offshore, which would enable them to cut their price below $100 and get into Home Depot and other low-cost retailers.

I think they’re on the right track. In fact, I might suggest their product to a few neighbors, whose sprinklers seem set to “create swamp” rather than “water lawn.” Just a thought.

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This photograph shows a car with the words “We Drive Solar” on the door, connected to a charging station. A windmill can be seen in the background.

The Dutch city of Utrecht is embracing vehicle-to-grid technology, an example of which is shown here—an EV connected to a bidirectional charger. The historic Rijn en Zon windmill provides a fitting background for this scene.

We Drive Solar

Hundreds of charging stations for electric vehicles dot Utrecht’s urban landscape in the Netherlands like little electric mushrooms. Unlike those you may have grown accustomed to seeing, many of these stations don’t just charge electric cars—they can also send power from vehicle batteries to the local utility grid for use by homes and businesses.

Debates over the feasibility and value of such vehicle-to-grid technology go back decades. Those arguments are not yet settled. But big automakers like Volkswagen, Nissan, and Hyundai have moved to produce the kinds of cars that can use such bidirectional chargers—alongside similar vehicle-to-home technology, whereby your car can power your house, say, during a blackout, as promoted by Ford with its new F-150 Lightning. Given the rapid uptake of electric vehicles, many people are thinking hard about how to make the best use of all that rolling battery power.

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