Watering plants in the era of the Internet of Things

Side project: PlantHube

Crédit illustration : Florian Lissot

What is the Internet of Things?

First of all, we can quote Chris Anderson (editor of Wired magazine) who sees the Internet of Things as the future of computing:

In the next industrial revolution, atoms are the new bits. ” Chris Anderson

Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things aims to add intelligence and the possibility to communicate to objects. It can probe and interact with its environment. These exchanges help make interactive daily life while improving and securing. They were still little present in the last few years: about as many communicating objects as people worldwide in 2008. But now, with the possibility of interconnecting these objects with the Web 2.0, their number will explode and the number of associated applications will grow rapidly. Cisco predicts 50 billion communicating objects in 2020 [01] against 31 billion from Intel [02]. Dealing with this growth, many companies [25] and projects [21-23] have been created on this topic.


There are many applications and there are a lot of sensors [24]: temperature, humidity, light, noise... Allowing them to communicate on a network, it becomes very easy to query these objects and aggregate their content, present it graphically, and add it to dashboards.

An example on open.sen.se
An example on open.sen.se

An example to illustrate the possible interconnection between objects and Web 2.0 is the provision of information concerning a coffee consumption and publish it on a social network.

Apart from sensors that relay information from our environment, we have seen arriving, a few years ago, Nabaztags. They are "communicating rabbits", and now called Karotz. The Nabaztag is able to read your mails, tell you the weather, notify you your messages, despite the industrial interest that it bears, the life of Nabaztag has not been very successful as shown by the history of this object taken in succession by different companies.

A possible reason of the mild interest paid to Karotz is its technical position: It's too complicated to set up for the 50yo housewife and offers too few opportunities for the expert.

Other applications that meet more specific needs exist, like Medria [42], a French company founded in 2004, putting objects in the service of communicating farming and daily animals observations for heat detection, calving and health disorders. Other companies like Sparked [41] also guide the use of their communicating objects to the agriculture sector.

While sustainability is a concept that concerns more and more, the Pachube platform [22] proposes a turnkey application to calculate its carbon footprint. Measuring instruments of domestic electricity consumption are connected to the application and it is then possible to display the results on a blog or follow it thanks to dashboards (graphs and indicators).

Long been observed by the home automation, the alarm clock is a very broad application of the Internet of Things. To realize this, consider an example: A person should set his alarm clock to go to a meeting...

  • The meeting is shifted: his online diary is impacted, and his connected alarm clock takes this offset into account.
  • The car has no more petrol: thanks to its sensors, the connected car detects it, and the connected alarm clock will automatically advance to 10 minutes (time required to take a detour to the gas station).
  • The tired feeling upon waking is because a person wakes up during a sleep cycle (lasting 90 minutes); a sensor could detect the sleep time and communicate it to the application that calculates the optimal waking hours.
  • The sky is sunny and the background of the air is sweet: The connected weather station could communicate these measures, the application advances the clock to allow the person to do his morning jog.

The list goes on and on as the possible uses are numerous. However, an average user would not have too many parameters affecting the alarm time. This demonstrates nevertheless the enormous range of made possible applications.


Another application is in the medical field. Indeed it is possible to pose connected objects on person in physical need to monitor vital signs and so anticipate a problem due to serious illness (heart problem ...); but also by analyzing the movement: to identify the fall of a person, or a suspicious immobility (possibility of discomfort). Identifying these trigger situations will allow a series of actions that will aim to save the troubled person. This being done through inter-object communication and an internet connection.

The range of applications is wider than what we might imagine at first. Some examples of developed applications using those technologies are presented on Peter Horvath's blog.

Technologies behind the Internet of Things

The sensors part is mostly composed of miniaturized sensors based on nanotechnology. To build more traditional sensors and communicating objects, the Arduino platforms are increasingly used. Those electronic platforms allow to easily create new types of interactive objects and are therefore now part of the "connected objects world".

Areas of the Internet of Things
Areas of the Internet of Things

Areas where the coupling of information and objects may create highly efficient and profitable business processes. ” Source: Link.pt

Concerning the connection between the object and its connected control platform, wireless links have the monopoly: Bluetooth, Near Field Communication (RFID), WiFi, Zigbee,... For data processing, Data Warehouses are emerging, it allows to index large volume of data and a fast access to it.

Heavy policing and limitations

The major issue raised by the omnipresence of the Internet of Things lies in the fact that the generation of information from the environment of a person (medical or geographic) constitutes an invasion of privacy. Follows that the problem of heavy policing and protection of privacy are increasingly in the news with the multiplicity of services related to the rise of another technology with which the Internet of Things cohabits: the web 2.0. Richard Matthew Stallman, who has campaigned for years against the control of the Human by the machines, rises to point that intrusion "problems" [51].

Today, a multitude of FabLab workshops are created in the four corners of the world. These workshops allow neophytes to have access to digital manufacturing tools, and more experienced people to contribute to larger projects.

Moreover, an aspect that is important to take into account is the fact that to deploy a technology, it must go beyond the gadget appearance; that may apply to the first connected objects. But in this area, this step is very difficult to pass. The deployment of this technology is uncertain without a need analysis.


Explosion of the Internet of Things, in infographics:

[01] The Internet of Things, viewed by Cisco
[02] The Internet of Things, viewed by Intel

Interconnection between the Internet of Things and the network (e.g. open.sens.se):

[11] A nespresso counter on facebook

Interconnection platforms for connected objects:

[21] Oen.sen.se
[22] Pachube
[23] Openspime
[24] Sensorpedia
[25] ioBridge

Internet of Things:

[31] Internet des objets à Web des objets [fr]
[32] How the next evolution of the Internet is changing everything
[33] A videography about "The Internet of Things"
[34] Fablab [fr]

The Internet of Things serving biology:

[41] Sparked improves online communication and collaboration [nl]
[42] Remote monitoring of calving, by Medria

Heavy policing and limitations:

[51] "Stallman avait raison" [fr]

PlanHube: Monitor your plants

After a school course (#FIPCO320) dealing with the Internet of things, we had to propose a project using these technologies. We called our project "PlantHube" ('plænt 'həb[I])!


It's all about connected objects. Especially, it deals with what we use those technologies for, in a domestic area. It's although about gardening.

Description of the potential service

Let's imagine a plant seller who wants to propose a social application to its customers and add value to the product he usually sell. The florist would also be able to monitor its plants sells.

The social application proposed to buyers would allow them to monitor their plants via an online dashboard fed by connected sensors, sold with the plant or separately. Customers could easily check the humidity in the ground, the light received by the plant during the day, the temperature and the ambient humidity. They would also have the opportunity to share their exploits, from their plants info to their friends, via social networks.

All information would be used by the "gardeners" to adapt the culture of their plants, but also by the system that would have the opportunity to analyze various parameters to offer cultivation advice and/or send alerts.

Your plants won't die of thirst again! ”

Global principle of our arduino atmogram (PlantHube)
Global principle of our arduino atmogram (PlantHube)

Technologies involved

A global plant package would come with:

  • 1 humidity sensor, in the ground;
  • 1 ambient humidity sensor, around the plant;
  • 1 luminosity sensor;
  • 1 temperature sensor.

Info could be then used by social networks, APIs, inter-objects communication (UPnP), pervasive aspects, semantic web, ubiquity, etc.

To go further

There are several possible developments. The dashboard could become a mobile app. Add a robot that reacts with the dashboard's info could directly regulate the plant's environment. Example: Watering a plant if it has not enough water. Backcrossing of information from different households cultivating the same type of plants allows some massive data mining.

In a next ticket...

During a FabLab, I realized a prototype of the Atmogram with @y3ty:

The arduino atmogram (PlantHube) itself
The arduino atmogram (PlantHube) itself