DAILY NEWS Jul 19, 2013 10:31 AM - 0 comments

SmartGreenHouse takes Arduino-based solutions to the next level

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By: Sohail Kamal, EP&T West Tech Columnist

Innovators take notice. If you haven’t been bitten by the Maker bug yet, we strongly encourage it. Products such as Arduinos on the market today, along with intermediate programming abilities, allow entrepreneurs to produce physical gadgets for a wide array of applications. I recently had the opportunity to speak about this exciting family of products with Don Gibson of Vancouver-based home and garden automation player SmartGreenHouse.

Q: What makes Smart Greenhouse successful so far and what will drive your success in the future?

“In a word, innovation,” says Gibson. “We have taken some old concepts and applied new technologies to allow both end users and commercial enterprises to connect real world devices in a way that was not available until a short time ago.” An Arduino is a single-board micro-controller designed to make the process of using electronics in multidisciplinary projects more accessible. It consists of a simple open source hardware board designed around an 8-bit Atmel AVR micro-controller. These devices interact with sensors and actuators programmed in 'c' that allow logical control and response, which sets the stage for a wide array of solutions.

Q: So let’s say I’m taking a vacation for a few weeks. My prized garden needs watering while I am away. How can these devices help?

“Your smart garden system can detect when the soil is dry, triggering a water valve or pump (actuators) based on the data from the soil moisture sensor,” says Gibson. “This results in an on-demand watering system, rather than a timed watering that takes place rain or shine, resulting in enormous savings which also prevents overwatering that can damage plants. These devices can also be programmed in the early morning to prevent water evaporation and deep soil sensors can be used as shut off triggers,” Gibson adds. “More importantly, because the system can be connected to the Internet, the owner can both monitor and control, in real time, any aspect of the system even when vacationing on the other side of the world.”

Q: Arduinos: Why should this interest the electronics industry?

“The Arduino family of devices are ‘open source’ and because of this, companies are able to create add-on devices to work with a very broad range of sensors and actuators,” says Gibson. “This leads the way for innovation.”

Since inception in 2009, more than three millions Arduinos have been sold. However, these products need add-on devices called shields, and they need cables, connectors, sensors and actuators. As this industry grows, the opportunities for parts suppliers, innovators and engineers accelerate. For OEMs, the benefits are twofold. OEMs can produce complex solutions with Arduinos at a reasonable cost to their customers, and they can improve their automation processes by hiring lower cost companies that provide Arduino based solutions.

Gibson provides a specific example of how SmartGreenHouse delivers such a solution. “Most warehouses use high bay lights, drawing huge amounts of current, which switch on in the morning and off at night. They draw 15 amps each, all day long, whether they are needed or not. So we can create detectors which only switch the lights on when someone is in the room. On demand, all day long.” By replacing the high bay lights with LEDs, and installing on-demand lighting system with detectors, his client reduced their lighting cost from $8,000 to $1,500 per year.

On the flipside for some OEMs, Arduinos have spawned a young industry, challenging established Control System OEMs that use proprietary systems. Companies such as Johnson Controls have a longer track record, but their offerings are more expensive in construction and delivery. The Arduino type of device is small, inexpensive and versatile.

“Automating a very small factory or enterprise was until recently a technically complex and expensive proposition,” says Gibson. “With this technology base, and specialized inexpensive sensors, the proprietary control manufacturers will experience a new generation of competition.”

With an additional office in Perth Scotland, SmartGreenHouse is growing rapidly, looking to expand their reach beyond Canada and the UK and are looking for partners to help them grow. The open source nature of the technology will lead to much more sophisticated solutions, from industrial controls to home automation.

If you have any questions, or would like to learn more, go to http://www.smartgreenhouse.organd http://www.arduino.cc

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