Blossom Smart Watering Controller Reviewby Ganesh T S on August 28, 2015 8:10 AM EST
Introduction and Component Analysis
Home automation has garnered renewed attention, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT) revolution. Many vendors targeting this market look to deliver solutions for aspects appealing to a broader audience. Some examples include lighting, temperature control, security using IP cameras etc. Irrigation control is a niche within the home automation niche. At first glance, it appears to be a limited market, as only those with gardens big enough to require scheduled / automated watering of multiple zones might need it. Surprisingly, there are many options for people looking to gain IP control over their irrigation / watering system's functioning. iConservo's Blossom is one such option. It is one of the very few crowd-funding projects that actually managed to ship on schedule.
An irrigation system in the typical US home takes water from the main line through a backflow prevention device and supplies it to one or more sprinkler valves. These sprinkler valves can be controlled using low voltage (typically 24V) electrical current from an irrigation controller. Traditional irrigation controllers (i.e, those designed prior to the smartphone age) rely on a complex interface to set up the schedule. For example, the 'programming interface' for the Hunter Pro-C (which was replaced by the Blossom Smart Watering Controller in our review setup) is shown below. Operation without going through a manual at least once is quite difficult.
The Hunter Pro-C that was replaced by the Blossom Smart Watering Controller
The sets of sprinkler(s) connected to the valve(s) that can be turned on with the same signal constitute an irrigation zone. The irrigation controller is the brains behind the whole irrigation system, as it handles the scheduling related to the activation and deactivation of each zone. Controllers are marketed based on the number of zones they can support. While the sprinklers and valves may be spread all over the garden, consumers usually opt to keep the controller in the garage (since it needs to be near a power outlet)
The technical specifications of the Blossom Smart Watering Controller, as provided in their marketing collateral, is reproduced below.
There are a number of popular irrigation controllers in the market. Blossom tries to differentiate itself with a unique set of features that don't seem to be present together in any other offering. These include:
- IP54 rating for outdoor installation (high level of protection against particles and a fair amount of protection against water)
- Communication via either Wi-Fi or powerline (useful in the case that the unit is mounted out of reach of a stable and strong Wi-Fi signal)
- Automated weather intelligence via the cloud (for example, scheduled watering could be turned off in the case of rainfall)
Blossom's marketing collateral also provides a handy comparison table that has been reproduced (with slight modifications) below.
Blossom claims to have a web app (marked 'Coming Soon') in their version of the above table. I have taken the liberty to alter it as control via a web browser is not currently available.
Designing a network-connected irrigation controller to operate on a schedule is not rocket science (from a hardware viewpoint). Consumers familiar with microcontrollers and relays may find a DIY solution to be more exciting. Based on FCC filings and a press release, we determined that the Blossom uses the following hardware:
- AzureWave AW-CU282 Wi-Fi SoC module
- Qualcomm Atheros QCA7000 HomePlug powerline communication IC
The AzureWave Aw-CU282 Wi-Fi SoC solution targeting the IoT market consists of the Marvell 88MC200 microcontroller and a Marvell 88W8792 1x1:1 802.11abgn Wi-Fi chip. The microcontroller integrates a 200 MHz Cortex-M3 core and 1MB of flash memory. It also supports up to 63 GPIOs (general-purpose IOs), and this comes in handy when attempting to interface with the electrical relays on the board.
The Qualcomm Atheros QCA7000 is compliant with HomePlug Green PHY specifications and comes with an integrated AFE (analog front end), making it suitable for energy management / home automation purposes. Transfer rates are of the order of 4 - 10 Mbps, but, Blossom doesn't need much bandwidth (only the schedules need to be set).
The low power nature of all the components in the unit ensures that this always-on device is a green one.