Inexpensive Water Quality Testing System

The base goal of this project is to build a simple, low cost, water quality testing system.

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Water quality is incredibly important to the health of a watershed. Very small changes in water quality can cause significant changes in the habitability of a watershed for aquatic life, and potentially disrupt our ability to use this water for ourselves (drinking, agriculture, etc.). Acid rain has been linked to changes in the quality of watersheds for their support of aquatic life, along with many other potential man made contaminants. For example: just a change of pH of 1 can significantly effect the ability of some fish to reproduce, or for the young to survive once hatched.

The ability to easily monitor and record information about water quality in watersheds could help to provide information on the potential changes in the watershed. The more data we can put together, the easier it will be to see trends, and make informed decisions decisions on repair and remediation of these water sources and habitats.

The idea/source of this project came from volunteering with a non-for-profit environmental group near me. Assessment of local watershed quality has always been a big part of their work, but it is very laborious and costly to get some of the information. Much of the information collected requires testing by qualified labs, time to test, and expensive equipment conduct the tests (i.e. metals, nitrogen, phosphorus, etc.). Some of the information can be collected instantaneously, if you have the right equipment (some of which can be quite costly as well).

The initial goals of this project will look at low cost sensors and data recording, including location (GPS). Temperature, conductivity, and pH are the "easy" three to add initially with hopefully more coming as I find potential sensors and hardware sources. This "device" would be used in tandem with water samples and lab testing to provide immediate information with location tracking that would later be combined with the detailed test data. In the end all of this information is required to make a good evaluation of water quality

Some of the potentially challenges include ensuring the sensor is easy and quick to sample with as little "add-ons" as possibly, cost creep, calibration of senors, precision of sensors, accuracy of sensors, etc. This is as much a learning experience for myself as it is an interesting project. I've been out of loop from building potential hardware and software for a while now, so the learning curve will be steep. Despite this, having a goal to reach while you learn is always a good thing. I look forward to see any comments with criticism/advice as the project rolls along.

Sorry for the potato quality picture, I just didn't like leaving it empty.

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  • Sensing....Something

    Jeremy Hopkins07/08/2015 at 23:48 0 comments

    Well the temperature sensor works! Its not pretty or calibrated (software) yet but measuring something is a lot more fun than beating my head against the wall. One I get the pH sensor tested I will put together something to pull all the information together and store it.

    The GPS logger shield in the picture is working as well, but I still have a lot to learn on building the program I need to take measurements etc. The first step is to get the individual pieces working on their own with the Arduino, then start pushing things together to get a working prototype up and running.

    To be completely honest, making something small and pretty will be hard given abilities, timelines, and funds...but it wouldn't be as fun if it wasn't a challenge :)

  • Is rusty a state of being or state of mind?

    Jeremy Hopkins06/21/2015 at 22:48 0 comments

    Wow I am rusty!!! I started trying to get individual components working with the Arduino and feel flat on my face pretty much right out of the door. The example code supplied with the LCD didn't work and after troubleshooting I needed to step back and stop trying to rush it. I am insanely rusty with programming in general let alone hardware interfacing so this could get interesting.

    While trashing around on the code I found a inexpensive pH meter to add in. So far so good, but it didn't come with the tip wet so I am hopeful it won't be too problematic.

    Well back into it... I am skipping the scree for the moment in hopes I can focus on getting the individual sensors working together and calibrated to some useful level. For the few of you following this project I apologize for the lack of updates. Two of my busiest month were the last two so I should be less brain dead when I get home at night to play with this project.

  • Small side project: Light Blue Bean

    Jeremy Hopkins06/03/2015 at 01:25 0 comments

    As part of the 2015 Hackaday Prize projects can win random draws for some products. One of the first giveaways was for this lovely little guy:

    It is tiny! I am looking forward to playing with it to see what I can do from a mobile point of view. It uses a small Arduino controller (ATmega 328p) with Bluetooth connectivity, a 3 axis accelerometer, a temperature sensor and more!

    For the random chance you stumble upon this project log remember that all you have to do is start your project for a chance at prizes....and in starting you will have taken the first big step in achieving something great!

    Thank you Hackaday for not only the hardware, but also giving a great place for people to work together!

  • Some parts have arrived

    Jeremy Hopkins06/03/2015 at 01:08 0 comments

    After some traveling for work I finally was able to order some parts. The Arduino UNO I already had but the Adafruit GPS logger shield I did not. This will cover me in two spots: The GPS signal, and the logging capability with the SD card reader.

    The screen is a 128x64 liquid crystal display that will cover both the size and back lighting that I want.

    I've been able to grab a pretty cheap and simple temperature sensor for liquids, as well as a general environmental temp/humidity sensor for the air.

    Other than a few things I've forgotten, the rest of the parts are going to be a little more difficult. I've already decided that building one larger sensor unit is not going to be the best option. The other sensors are a lot more sensitive to calibration problems. Many pH sensors need to be calibrated before each sample to guarantee the measurements. Being able to calibrate, replace, and test the probes separately is a useful option.

    The biggest problem I am having right now is being able to afford a pH or O2 sensor (not a great excuse, but it is the unfortunate truth). I have been in contact with someone who works on gas sensors in the hops to at least borrow one for a proof of concept.

    Now to get the rest of a few things I've forgotten and the build the proof of concept!

  • A week of searching and researching

    Jeremy Hopkins04/30/2015 at 21:32 0 comments

    It has been a busy week of traveling around for work, and researching for this project....My first order should go out this weekend to pick up some things to get a proof of concept together. The first few things are the screen, gps, etc so that there is a way to see things, know where we are, and interact with the device. (Images below are from adafruit, I just didn't want to put out an all text log)

    The next step is to grab some of the sensors. Temperature is an easier one that will happen quick and easy. The next ones will give a good start, but are the harder ones to find inexpensive versions. The main three that I feel are both necessary and easiest to find are: pH, O2, and conductivity. So far I feel pH and conductivity will be the easier of the two; dissolved O2 so far is looking a lot more expensive, but I have an idea of someone to talk to to find out some more options.

    One thing that I am trying to toy with is how to "join" the sensors together into one unit. Is one unit possible? Is it the best way to do things? With there be negative interaction between the sensors in the water? The initial idea did include one hand held unit not many. The final decision will come down to the type and amount of sensors.

    I really wish I could find a way to work a LightBlue Bean board into this ,but just don't think it will cover all the I/Os I need. It does look like an awesome product I want to eventually play around with though!

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rafall03 wrote 04/09/2017 at 14:46 point


help, i need a water hardness sensor

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Sophi Kravitz wrote 06/03/2015 at 17:05 point

look forward to seeing what you come up with, with the new parts!

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A.Lizard wrote 05/04/2015 at 09:49 point

ir's a bit late to tell you this, but if I were going to do something like that, I'd start by looking at waspmote:

note that there are several RF transceivers available, including cell data network. Found out about waspmote right after I submitted a solution to a similar Innocentive Challenge problem I wrote a design proposal for around clumsier tech. 

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Jeremy Hopkins wrote 05/30/2015 at 00:28 point

Thank you for posting this! It looks like a great product with many similar things to what I am looking at building.  I have a feeling my available funds for this project are going to limit me more than I expected, and this would definitely be out of reach.  The project is as much or more a learning experience for myself as it is to build a "useful" product.i

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