When we went to look for inspiration as beginners, we found that a lot of the projects that people worked on were either too simplistic, too hard, or rather pointless. Do we really need a clap-switch lamp? Really?
So, we stopped looking for something and dove right in to what we want do with a microcontroller: aquaponics. Aquaponics is, as simply as possible, the symbiosis of agriculture (growing plants) and aquaculture (growing aquatic life). The waste products from your fish or whatever are broken down by bacteria, the nutrients are utilized by the plants, and the cleaned water is sent back to the fish. It is extremely more efficient than land-based agriculture or aquaculture alone. (Talking more about aquaponics is outside the scope of this blog post as there are a lot of great resources and a ton of information.) It is the perfect starting project for us, we think, considering our interests, future goals, and ability to progress from the simple (temperature monitoring) to the complex (internet or cellular updates and control).
A lot of people out there may be wondering why we chose one microcontroller over the other. The best answer is simple: $$$. We worked out what we thought we needed and found that using a Raspberry Pi would be cheaper than an Arduino. We don’t need to tell you that this is something that is important for every project. Try to budget out what you need first, it not only helps you financially, it is great for organizing your build and you might even come across cool things and deals you never even expected.
Another answer includes the fact that the Raspberry Pi board has easy (and cheaper) connective capabilities to other devices compared to the Arduino. This is key, first of all, because we don’t want to run an ethernet cable across the entire house or outfit the Arduino with another $50 WiFi shield, and who knows how much headache. Second of all, I’m sure someone more familiar with Arduino boards can correct me if I’m wrong, but the Raspberry Pi 2 has 4 USB ports, an ethernet, and an HDMI port built-in. You are not going to find that out of the box with Arduino at the same price point.
Furthermore, and the point of no return for Arduino, the Raspberry Pi 2 board just came out like a week before we started working on this project. The whole brand-newiness of that was a great sell. New and $35? It was just too good to pass up.
Finally, when searching around for projects, we found a lot of great Aquaponics systems using Arduino, but many of them are your typical detector and valve controller. We really wanted the ability to easily move onto the internet of things. (Yes, Arduino can do this, but not as cheaply and easily, from our research, but this is debatable.) We also found a couple great projects using the Raspberry Pi, namely aquaPionics and Brewpi that we thought would be great resources to help us develop our work.
That being said, our short-term goal is to get our Raspberry Pi to sense the water temperature and pH in real time. We have the ability to get temperature and pH sensing now (our pH meter is acting wonky), but to have this output in real time in a meaningful way to us is the next step. (We are behind on blog posts from actually working on the project.)
In the long run, we hope to have our system post the data in real-time online and notify via email of any horrible changes. First, we are probably going to do it on a 2×12 LCD screen at regular intervals.
That’s all for now, will start getting into the actual project in following posts and hope to hear from you any suggestions!