Turbidity Visualization – alternative design

In the first turbidity node design I re-used leftover plastic of one of the bottle designs as the circuit carrier and copper tape for connections. This proved to be tricky as the heat during soldering would distort the plastic and dissolve the glue of the copper tape, making it lift off the surface and weaken the connections.

In a new attempt to provide a seamful design, this new prototype uses copper coated welding rods and copper wire as conducting elements and at the same time as structural element. This means the circuit would not require a surface, such as paper or plastic, but would only consist of conducting copper elements. For a first test I used a 1.2mm rod and experimented with soldering various wires and components to the rod. Soldering wire to the copper rod works well after removing the oxidation layer with sandpaper. The enameled copper wire also only solders well after sanding, which is time consuming when many components are involved. The advantage of this, however, is that the 3 dimensional circuit is less likely to be short-circuited, if parts accidentally touch – except for the conductive elements of the LEDs and the solder points.

I envisioned the test design to contain a set of 3 addressable LED sets that fit inside a glass jar. I bent the Ground wire into a circular shape to act as a base for the circuit which will connect to a set of LEDs to be controlled by a Wemos D1 board. After a hopeless attempt to use SMD LEDs for this circuit I found that 3mm LED diodes are much better suited for this kind of circuit.

In the end, I connected a set of three LEDs to three individually addressable wires. The copper rod needs to be bent carefully with flat pliers while the copper wire bends into shapes very easily. This gives the final circuit a quite messy look and I am unsure the design in this form would be suitable to provide any meaningful visualization of the turbidity reading.

The circuit appears quite fragile, the copper wires can be bent and crushed in the hand which gives it quite a unique aesthetic when handheld. Once transferred into a glass jar, the intricacies of the circuit design fade into the background, and the bright blue LEDs, as well as the battery and the small circuit board, distract from the fragile wires. I programmed the board with a simple test sketch that loops through the three LEDs.

The next step involves connecting this design to the turbidity sensor through my local MQTT network. I submerge my turbidity sensor into a glass bowl filled with water to get more realistic sensor data readings for this test. Unfortunately, the circuit design appears to be tricky to be programmed, and only after a while am I able to successfully de-tangle the wires that must have short-circuited somewhere, causing the code to malfunction and print nonsensical glyphs in the serial monitor when I try to debug my code.

Once my LED node is properly connecting to the WiFi network and correctly receiving the sensor data I map the turbidity to the amount of LEDs being switched on. To achieve a more murky fluid for this test I add a teabag to the water. I notice that the value changes are not as extreme as i would have hoped for and assume that a different resistor, perhaps a trimpot, would help to get more accurate data. Another issue with the sensor data is jumpiness. This could be because the LDR is just not suitable for an accurate measurement, or perhaps the sensor design is not waterproof and hence unreliable. Perhaps the code could be improved by measuring a running average over a couple of miliseconds, instead of measuring the brightness only once sand immediately transmitting this data.

Despite issues with the quality of sensor data, I learned a lot about the feasibility of this circuit design. While the copper wire gives the circuit a unique, messy look that I generally like, it is unsuitable for providing an easily understandable visualization of sensor data. Using only copper rods in combination with 3mm LEDs could work with a refined sketch on how to accurately map the sensor reading to an arrat of LEDs.

Lab EC-sensor tests

Before using more EC probes in the field and gathering data from different parts of the stream I tested them in a controlled environment in the lab.

Experiment 1: 

The two versions tested use the same materials, same length of chord and same 560 Ohm resistor. The first test involved a jar filled with tap water, immersing both sensors in the jar and monitoring the data via mosquitto_sub.

Jar filled with tap water for testing two DIY EC probes

Note: The pink tape wrapped around one probe was an attempt to avoid the probe mistaken with a power plug on the lab table, which poses a severe hazard. The probes are stored away safely when unattended to ensure health and safety.  This version of the probe uses the Live (L) and neutral (N) prong of the plug. To improve the safety of the probe the live (L) prong should be removed and Neutral (N) and Ground (⏚) should be used for measuring the electric conductivity. 

The terminal output shows the EC probes publishing the measured values under the topics motorola/ec and moturoa/ecrua. While the test recording was done, the DHT11 sensor was also active in the lab, publishing air temperature (moturoa/atemp) and air humidity (moturoa/ahumid). Output showing values returned by two EC probes (moturoa/ec and moturoa/ecrua) and DHT11 sensor showing air temperature (moturoa/atemp) and air humidity (moturoa/ahumid)

This first test showed a deviation of around 10 between both probes, behaving relatively consistent. The next test would require measurements in the stream to see whether the probes return coherent readings from flowing  water.

Experiment 2:

Due to bad weather and high winds it was too dangerous to conduct testing in the field. However, to get a better idea of the consistency between the two probes I went to an easily accessible part of the stream outside of the forested area and collected two samples of stream water. 

Back in the lab I pour the first sample into a clean jar that is big enough to contain all three sensors. I prepared a paper sheet for keeping experiment notes, starting with date/time, location of sample taken, last weather and readings from the TDS meter at the beginning and end of the test.

  1. I boot the Raspberry Pi (the Pi acts as Wi-Fi Access POint hosting the Moturoa_Transmissions network and acts as the MQTT-broker).
  2. Connect laptop to Moturoa_Transmissions and start log with timestamp
    mosquitto_sub -v -h -p 1883 -t '#' | xargs -d$'\n' -L1 sh -c 'date "+%D %T $0"' > data.log
  3. Immerse probes into water sample and activate by connecting the Wemos D1 micro controllers to power supplies (USB batteries).

The raw data of both test results can be found on the development repository.