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fully edited. Content may change prior to final publication. Citation information: DOI
10.1109/JSEN.2015.2435516, IEEE Sensors Journal
Sensors-12234-2015 1

Smartphone Irrigation Sensor


Joaquín Gutiérrez, Juan Francisco Villa-Medina, Aracely López-Guzmán, and Miguel Ángel Porta-
Gándara

 Mobile devices have been used as external biosensor


Abstract—An automated irrigation sensor was designed and readouts with on-board audio hardware, including automated
implemented to use in agricultural crops. The sensor uses a data processing by means of an App [1]. Other monitoring App
smartphone to capture and process digital images of the soil was designed for driver fatigue monitoring based on the driver
nearby the root zone of the crop, and estimates optically the water
face image and a bio-signal sensor [2]. A mobile radiation
contents. The sensor is confined in a chamber under controlled
illumination and buried at the root level of the plants. An Android detector has been developed with a PIN photodiode connected
App was developed in the smartphone to operate directly the to a smartphone via a microphone input and uses the GPS and
computing and connectivity components, such as the digital networking capabilities for data sharing [3]. Another
camera and the Wi-Fi network. The mobile App wakes-up the application has been developed to measure pulsatile
smartphone, activating the device with user-defined parameters. photoplethysmograph signals from a fingertip using the built-in
Then, the built-in camera takes a picture of the soil through an
camera lens and then use this data to detect atrial fibrillation,
anti-reflective glass window and an RGB to gray process is
achieved to estimate the ratio between wet and dry area of the which is the most common sustained arrhythmia [4].
image. After the Wi-Fi connection is enabled, the ratio is Collaborative Apps predict the scheduled traffic signals and
transmitted via a router node to a gateway for control an irrigation monitor road conditions, using the smartphone cameras
water pump. Finally, the App sets the smartphone into the sleep mounted on the car windshields [5]. A mobile phone-based App
mode to preserve its energy. The sensor is powered by has been developed to recognize the people activity, and their
rechargeable batteries, charged by a photovoltaic panel. The
context in a picture, by means of the usage of the different
smartphone irrigation sensor was evaluated in a pumpkin crop
field along 45 days. The experimental results show that the use of sensors, like “standing or playing” from the accelerometer,
smartphones as an irrigation sensor could become a practical tool “indoor or outdoor” from a photo device [6].
for agriculture. Mobile devices could be used in important economic sectors
-such as agriculture- embracing the value chain for diverse
Index Terms—Automation irrigation, optical sensor, purposes, from the farm logistics to the consumer, employing
smartphone, Android App, wireless sensor network. diverse sensors and information communication technology
[7]. Some applications make usage of embedded resources of
the device, meanwhile other purposes requires the development
I. INTRODUCTION
of software and hardware. Mobile devices, such as PDAs

M OBILE devices (e.g. Smartphones and Tablets) have


powerful computing, sensing, and connectivity
resources, and run Apps for multiple purposes. The device
(personal digital assistant) have used Apps to collect field data
for decision making in agricultural production traceability [8].
A mobile phone has been used to send dripper run time
characteristics commonly include a high performance processor scheduling advice via SMS from a water balance system,
at low-power consumption, running frequencies of over 1 GHz, whereas farmers sent back data about irrigations and rainfalls
and a vast memory, also contains a high-resolution touchscreen to update the water balance [9]. The worker uses a GPRS
with graphics capability. They are built with different sensors, enabled handheld device to capture information on poultry
such as high-resolution CCDs, global positioning systems operations collected at a remote chicken farm and transmitted
(GPS), accelerometers, gyroscopes, and compasses among to a back-end server in the main office [10]. A smartphone App
others. These mobile devices have diverse connectivity options, runs a web-based whole-farm simulator Simugan, oriented to
general packet radio service (GPRS), third- or fourth- assist the beef cattle production systems, simulating a scenario
generation (3G/4G), Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi for Internet and local with initial values and conditional rules to manage a farm [11].
access. They have a multi-tasking operating system for running A mobile App employed in agroecosystems allows the farmers
first- and third-party Apps, resulting an attractive developing perform nitrogen leaching simulations. This can be conducted
platforms for a specific applications in different domains. into the field and achieve an on-site analysis of nitrogen
Also with additional external sensors the mobile devices can management practices for environmental conservation [12]. By
enable attractive sensing applications elsewhere, such as
environmental monitoring, healthcare, security and
transportation.

The authors are with the Engineering Group, Centro de Investigaciones


Biológicas del Noroeste, S.C., La Paz, México, 23097 (corresponding author to
provide phone: +52 612-1238421; e-mail: maporta@cibnor.mx).

1530-437X (c) 2015 IEEE. Personal use is permitted, but republication/redistribution requires IEEE permission. See
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This article has been accepted for publication in a future issue of this journal, but has not been fully edited. Content may change prior to final publication. Citation information: DOI
10.1109/JSEN.2015.2435516, IEEE Sensors Journal
Sensors-12234-2015 2

pointing a mobile device to barcodes or near field


communication (NFC) tags, a viticulturist may download or
upload data of climate, disease, and pest incidence of a grape
field [13].
Other applications for the agriculture sector using mobile
devices have been developed; for calculating leaf area with
image processing techniques [14], for estimating the leaf area
index (LAI) by two indirect methods [15], for monitoring
farmland air and soil conditions in real time [16], for
implementing a Munsell soil-colour sensor for the examination,
description, and classification of soils [17], and for detecting
pests and plant diseases on leaves by converting the mobile
device into a digital microscope [18].
In this work, an automated agricultural irrigation sensor is
described. The sensor is implemented on a mobile device to
estimate optically the water contents of the soil nearby the root
of the crop through an image processing App. When the water
contents drops at an established figure, the required amount of
water is delivered to the crops. The irrigation sensor was
developed employing an Android smartphone exploiting their
built-in components. This sensor was linked by a router node as
a new wireless sensor unit to the Automated Irrigation System
Fig. 1. Smartphone irrigation sensor.
[19], and tested in a pumpkin (Cucurbitaceae pepo) crop field.
coverage. This node is linked using the ZigBee communication
II. IRRIGATION SENSOR
protocol [20] to a gateway that drives the irrigation pump if the
The irrigation sensor is based on an embedded camera of a value is suitable (Fig. 2). The App sets the smartphone into the
smartphone, enclosed in a waterproof and light-tight buried standby mode to preserve its power, waiting for the next image
chamber. The camera with a controlled illumination source to be acquired.
takes an image to estimate the water contents of the soil. The
dark and light pixels are differentiated by means of a gray scale
analysis, corresponding to the soil wet-dry sectors. A router A. Relative Wet Soil Estimation
node is used to forward the contents value to a gateway, which The irrigation sensor is based on the pixel differentiation of
drives a livewell pump to provide automatically the water needs a grayscale image produced by diverse water contents in the
in a crop field. A developed irrigation App uses the smartphone soil. To estimate this differentiation a set of images were taken
computing capability and connectivity, including their and their histograms were analyzed in the grayscale from 0 to
microprocessor, the built-in digital camera, the Wi-Fi radio
modem, the liquid crystal display (LCD), and the external
memory.
The App wakes-up the smartphone from the standby mode at
a given programmable time, activating the mobile device with
a specific set of parameters such as image resolution, screen
rotation, turn-on timer, and LCD brightness. The built-in
camera is activated to take an RGB picture of the soil through
an anti-reflective glass window inside the chamber (Fig. 1). To
take the picture of the dark environment in the underground
chamber, the region of the soil is lighted by means of a white
ultra-bright LED, located on a pole, which is turned on
employing an automatic illumination circuit developed with a
microcontroller, through the sense of a variation in a voltage
divider with a photoresistor to detect the brightness of the LCD.
The LED is turned off after the picture is taken, to preserve
energy.
The picture is transformed to a gray scale image and a
Relative Wet Soil (RWS) percentage is estimated. The App
enables the Wi-Fi connection of the smartphone creating an
access point, allowing the transmission of the percentage to a
Fig. 2. Irrigation sensor linked to the Automated Irrigation System.
router node, in order to increase the smartphone network

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This article has been accepted for publication in a future issue of this journal, but has not been fully edited. Content may change prior to final publication. Citation information: DOI
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Sensors-12234-2015 3

Fig. 3. Images of the soil with different water contents. Fig. 4. Enhanced images of the soil with different water contents.

255, using Matlab R2014a (Fig. 3), between an image when the which is enabled by the low power consumption
soil is completely dry (Fig. 3.1) and other when is saturated with microcontroller PIC24FJ64GB004 (Microchip
300 ml of water (Fig. 3.6). These two images represent the Technologies, Chandler, AZ) that monitors continuously
limits of the dynamic range of the system, which depends of the the light-dark condition of the smartphone LCD, by means
physical characteristics of the soil: sand, loam, and clay of a voltage divider using a 5 MΩ photoresistor in series
percentages. Other images were acquired adding 60, 120, 180 with a 100KΩ resistor, turning on and off the LED
and 240 ml of water respectively (Fig. 3.2-3.5). The histograms respectively. All these electronics components are mounted
shown a slight difference between dry and wet pixels. In order on a designed PCB. The power supply consists of four series
to enhance their differences, a lightfield image of a super-white connected AA (Ni-MH, 1.2 V, and 2000-mAh) batteries
paper was taken with the same background of the illumination maintained by a 0.225 W photovoltaic panel MPT4.8-75
provided by the LED and subtracted from the set of images. The (PowerFilm Solar, Ames, IN). This provides full energy
resulting images and their histograms are shown (Fig. 4). Then, autonomy, the smartphone included.
the wet and dry pixels can be distinguished. The figures from 3) Chamber
4.2 to 4.5, shown two differentiated regions, where the value of The smartphone and the controlled illumination circuit are
around 200 is the limit between the wet and dry pixels. As can enclosed in the chamber, which is made of rigid PVC plastic
with a rectangular cuboid profile of 0.30 x 0.40 x 0.26 m (W
be seen the number of wet pixels is increased directly
x L x H) dimensions and weighing 2 kg. The front chamber
proportional to the added water. Therefore, the RWS is
face has a window of anti-reflective glass, which
calculated as the ratio between the number of wet and total
dimensions are 0.20 x 0.18 m (L x H) and located at 0.04 m
pixels. above the bottom edge and 0.03 m from the left edge.
B. Irrigation Sensor Components 4) Router Node
The wireless router node was developed by means of an
1) Smartphone XBee Wi-Fi radiomodem (Digi International, Eden Prairie,
To implement the irrigation sensor, the basic smartphone MN), linked with the Wi-Fi access point of the smartphone
ZTE-V791 was selected, which integrates an ARM Cortex- and an XBee-PRO S2 radiomodem to link the node to the
gateway. Both radiomodems are interfaced using a
A9 processor with 512 MB of RAM and 4 GB of internal
memory, runs at 1GHz on Android 2.3.6 Gingerbread with microcontroller to transfer a data packet that includes the
application programming interface level 10. A touchscreen router node identifier, the RWS percentage, date, and time.
of 3.5” is provided, with 320 x 480 pixels, with a standard The energy is provided with a similar power supply
Li-Ion battery of 1200 m Ah. Other features include employed for the illumination circuit.
GSM/GPRS and EDGE bands, Wi-Fi 802.11 b/g/n, C. Irrigation App
Hotspot, WAP 2.0 and a 3.0 megapixel rear-facing camera The App was programmed by means of the Android Studio
with 2048 x 1536 pixels. SDK, which allows the development of multiplatform
2) Illumination circuit
applications. In addition, the ZTE-V791 driver was installed to
The controlled illumination circuit is integrated by the high-
emulate and debug the App. The irrigation App was developed
brightness white LED-P3W200-120/41 (SiLed, DF,
in Java (Fig. 5). Initially, the algorithm requests for a user
Mexico) powered at 3.3 V through a voltage regulator
ADP122AUJZ-3.3-R7 (Analog Devices, Norwood, MA), defined time to start a periodically process. This loop,

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http://www.ieee.org/publications_standards/publications/rights/index.html for more information.
This article has been accepted for publication in a future issue of this journal, but has not been fully edited. Content may change prior to final publication. Citation information: DOI
10.1109/JSEN.2015.2435516, IEEE Sensors Journal
Sensors-12234-2015 4

Fig. 6. Buried chamber located parallel the drippers.

n m
k   H (i, j )
i 1 j 1

where k is the number of wet pixels, meanwhile n and m


represents the size of the digital image.
Fig. 5. Smartphone irrigation App.
3) RWS
customizes the camera to a specific resolution, enables Wi-Fi The percentage of the ratio between wet (k) and total (n × m)
network to create a WLAN hotspot, enables power manager and pixels represent the relative wet soil value, given by:
turns on the LCD touchscreen to activate the white LED,
illuminating the interior of the chamber. After, the algorithm RWS % 100 k n  m
takes a RGB image and is converted to grayscale, a sector of
this image is selected to eliminate the edges and is employed to This percentage is truncated at integer values, so the
calculate the RWS percentage and transmitted to the resolution is one unit.
microcontroller-based gateway via the router node. The image,
percentage, date, and time are stored in the smartphone memory
to create a log file. The smartphone goes into sleep-mode. When III. IRRIGATION SENSOR OPERATION
the user-defined-time is elapsed, the loop starts again. To test the smartphone irrigation sensor, cucurbitaceae seeds
The RWS is estimated according to: were planted in the field, because its rapid growth of about 40
days. The field was located in a 20 x 30 m greenhouse in
1) RGB to gray
The RGB components R(i, j), G(i, j), and B(i, j), where i and
j denote the spatial coordinates of the pixels, are converted to a
gray scale matrix I(i, j), according to [21], using the equation:

I i, j   0.2989Ri, j   0.5870Gi, j   0.1140Bi, j 

2) Pixel differentiation
The gray image I(i, j) is subtracted from a lightfield matrix
L(i, j), to enhance the image. The dark and light pixels that
correspond to the wet and dry ones is differentiated, comparing
them to an established ε limit:

1 if [ I i, j   Li, j ]  
H i, j   
0 if [ I i, j   Li, j ]   Fig. 7. Chamber, router node and gateway location in the crop field.

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This article has been accepted for publication in a future issue of this journal, but has not been fully edited. Content may change prior to final publication. Citation information: DOI
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Sensors-12234-2015 5

100

90

80

70

Relative Wet Soil (%)


60

50

40

30

20

10

0
20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 01 02 03 04 05
Time (day)

Fig. 10. RWS fluctuation and irrigation events along several days.

Fig. 8. Android smartphone irrigation App.


occurs. This mass flow was obtained due the irrigation pump
capacity and the watering tubes resistance and was measured in
Comitan, Baja California Sur, Mexico (24° 7.933’ N, 110° two different drippers by means of a 1000 ml glass beakers. The
25.416´ W). The composition of the soil is loamy sand (sand irrigation was performed by the automated irrigation system
85%, loam 13%, and clay 2%). The irrigation field was set to using the smartphone irrigation sensor. With empirical
10 production beds and watering tubes 20 m long with drippers information, a RWS irrigation threshold of 45% was selected
every 0.2 m. Two seeds were planted in basins beneath each for this crop, due the water needs and sowing season. A sector
dripper, except for three consecutive drippers, which basins of 1100 x 1100 pixels of the image was taken every 0.25 h,
were maintained without seeds to prevent that the roots of the established in the smartphone App (Fig. 8), and when the
crop interfere with the image. The chamber was placed parallel percentage was equal or less than the threshold, the pump
between its front face and those three drippers -aligning the irrigates automatically the field during 10 minutes
midpoint of the glass with the middle dripper- separated 0.05 m corresponding to about 0.1 liters per dripper. A restrictive
and buried 0.1 m from the ground level (Fig.6), without soil condition was established to avoid consecutive irrigation
disturbance. periods preventing excess of water. Subsequently, the three
next soil-images after a trigger irrigation were skipped. After
The system was placed into the greenhouse, because the that if the next image complies with the threshold another
chamber is buried the LAN signal of the smartphone is irrigation period is applied. This condition guarantees enough
attenuated, the transmission range was tested successfully until time for the water to be distributed beneath the soil and appears
25 m. To prevent data loss, the router node was located at 20 m in the glass of the sensor.
from the chamber to assure coverage of the smartphone Wi-Fi
link between them. The gateway was located outside the The RWS value along 24 h for the first days, is shown in Fig.
greenhouse at 10 m from the router node (Fig. 7). The router 9, when the irrigation sensor was placed. When the RWS value
node through the XBee-PRO S2 radiomodem can be linked up reached below the 43% threshold, an irrigation period was
to 1.6 km. triggered at 13:00 h, then can be noticed that the next value at
13:15 h do not trigger the irrigation period. Several values of
After preparing the field, the crops were irrigated manually 45% were measured until 15:15 h and none of them trigger the
with 0.6 liters per dripper/day during two weeks until sprout water pump. Daily percentage fluctuation of the RWS during
60 15 days and the number of irrigation periods are shown in figure
10. The increment for the irrigation periods along the days is
55
due to plant growth, and an increase of ambient temperature,
approaching the spring season. The irrigation sensor was tested
Relative Wet Soil (%)

50

during 45 days, a total of 157 irrigation periods were applied


45
giving about 16 liters of water per dripper. The cucurbitaceae


40
Image 13:00 Image 13:15 crop was harvested in two occasions, producing 10 kg of
biomass per cultivation bed.
35

Triggered Irrigation
30
03:00 06:00 09:00 12:00
Time (h)
15:00 18:00 21:00 IV. CONCLUSION

Fig. 9. RWS along 24 hours.


A developed smartphone irrigation sensor complied with the
conceived concept of an optically triggered automated

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Sensors-12234-2015 6

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This article has been accepted for publication in a future issue of this journal, but has not been fully edited. Content may change prior to final publication. Citation information: DOI
10.1109/JSEN.2015.2435516, IEEE Sensors Journal
Sensors-12234-2015 7

Joaquín Gutiérrez Jagüey received the


Ph.D. degree in Artificial Intelligence from
the Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Miguel Ángel Porta-Gándara received
Superiores de Monterrey, México, in 2004. the Ph.D. degree in Engineering from the
He is a Researcher at the Centro de Universidad Nacional Autónoma de
Investigaciones Biológicas del Noroeste, México, México, in 1997. He is a
S.C. (CIBNOR), La Paz, BCS, México. His Researcher of The Engineering Group at
current research interests include the CIBNOR. His current research interests
development and experimental validation of robotic systems for include the development of engineering
biological research applications. systems.

Juan Francisco Villa-Medina received


the M.S. degree in computational
engineering from the Instituto Tecnológico
de La Paz, México, in 2013. He is a
technician at CIBNOR. His current
research interests include the development
of engineering systems.

Aracely Lopéz Guzmán received the B.T.


degree in computational engineering from
the Instituto Tecnológico de La Paz,
México, in 2014

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