“They’re only sprinklers!” Yeah. Right! I worked for so many years in hi-tech that I was certain the design and manufacture of the Blue Marble system would be a piece of cake!
Not so fast. In hi-tech irrigation, you’ve got almost all the challenges of engineering and physics to deal with:
- Hydraulics, pressures, flows, seals, and forces
- Electro-magnetics in the valve actuators
- Electronics (Careful! Water and electronics don’t like to live with each other)
- 3D solids design and 3D printing (a tiny mistake can cost 3 weeks!)
- Radio frequency communication and propagation
- Weather and climate analysis and prediction
- Client software and User Interface Design (the App)
- Server side software (the Blue Marble controller and Internet Cloud communications)
- Embedded Software – each device has a programmed computer (microcontroller) in it
- Power management (these are cutting edge, ultra low power circuit designs. Remember – no batteries!)
And much more …
Engineering as Beauty. Invention as Journey,Technology as Art
I don’t know how others interpret it, but to me, all of this engineering is, truly, challenging, and beautiful art. And sincerely, first, and foremost, I have been motivated in this project to leave something that, like art, betters people’s lives, elevates them, and betters the world in which we live.
Art? Yes, art. Like an artist’s imagination is limited by the real constraints of their medium (paint, bronze, marble, or tone), so too is a creation of engineering constrained by current technologies, physics, and economics. Work on the Blue Marble System has truly been a challenge in the art of creation. The journey has been breathtaking and has only just begun.
Please Help Bring Blue Marble to Life!
I have so enjoyed this creative journey and hope that you, too, find that the art of a Blue Marble system brings joy and beauty to you and your garden and is able to improve your life in some small way.
There is one, singular, person I wish to thank more than all. She toiled while I “played”. Everyone knows who I am talking about. Thank you, darling, for believing in me and allowing me to try.
Still, quite a number of people gave of their time and talent to make it possible for me to offer Blue Marble and, without going through a long list of names, I here, sincerely thank you all. I must thank two other people, particularly who have been deeply involved in helping me to bring this project to you: Edward Zomora and Ken Bruckman.
Fail or succeed, this is what I have wanted to do my entire life. From the first science experiments my mom did with me in answer to my questions of curiosity, to my late nights hitting the tech books, this is what I was meant to do. It is so unlike working for big, bottom-line corporations that I have always worked for. No, this is more consistent, in every way, with who I would like to be: a steward of this earth, generous to its people, creative with my gifts, and to be allowed to earn my way. In short, this is my dream and my calling! I will do my best to make it real for you, as well as for me.
Please order your Blue Marble System today! Enjoy your garden, save water, and help to usher in a new era of precision irrigation, and live my dream with me.
Risks and challenges
Being trained as a systems engineer at Boeing I worked with and was mentored by some of the best engineers in world, some of whom had worked on the original GPS satellites and the Space Shuttle. I learned there that any system is as strong only as its weakest link and any project would fail first by its highest risk component. In the development of the Blue Marble System, we prioritized our prototyping and testing to first address and hammer down what we saw as the highest technical risks while addressing the more mature technologies by the straight forward application of standard engineering design and labor.
One of the highest risk decisions was to make the Blue Marble system battery-free. I wanted this, very badly, as I believed that a system with several, tens, or even hundreds of unreliable chemical batteries scattered about a garden or farm, is the definition of a reliability and maintenance nightmare. I believe that, over time, any system with batteries will end up an unused and discarded relic of what might otherwise have been a great idea. I believe that a zero-battery system is the only thing that can be maintained and continue to add value for many years into the future.
Much engineering effort was expended to make the system operate without batteries. We focused like a laser beam on high efficiency circuit design and firmware to squeeze the most energy out of every photo-electron captured from the sun. And, we reached our goal, being able to offer you a garden without batteries!
The same goes for the choice of glass, instead of plastics, for covering the solar cells of Blue Marble field devices. Like what has happened in only a few months to many solar garden lights, plastic covers can yellow, blocking light from the solar cell, and quickly rendering the devices useless. We intend to use glass so that this does not happen to Blue Marble devices.
We have avoided problems by simplifying Blue Marble field devices (valves and sensors) to doing just one task and doing it well, and only when told to do so by the Blue Marble Controller. Instead, we have put more Intelligence into the controller, which can be updated, or even remote-help managed, from over the internet. Thus, any problems that might come up will be far easier to fix.
Blue Marble Field Device FCC Certification
Blue Marble uses radios to communicate. To use the controller with WiFi, alone, we are “scott free” and no further FCC certification is required. However, to enable battery-free operation, Blue Marble sensors and valves in the field use a second type of radio: our Marble-Link Radio.To that end, Blue Marble, Inc. must have our Marble-Link radios FCC certified (at great cost) before we ship our field devices. They have been built with FCC “conformance” in mind, but we still have to actually pay for and pass FCC communications/interference tests. We are confident that they will pass such tests, but this is still unknown until it actually happens.
Prototype to Production Software
We have built the highest risk portions of the Blue Marble controller, app, and cloud software. However, there are still a modules that must be produced and a better pretty face (UI) be put on them. Most of this is being done by leveraging well-known online web service providers with stellar reputations. Still, the software components must be assembled together and the user interface finalized. This will be done in parallel with hardware production. Still some risk, particularly in terms of schedule, can be encountered with any software or hardware project and that must be understood.
Product packaging updates
There are planned packaging (physical housing of devices) updates to ensure reliable and leak-proof valves and sensors. Blue Marble devices will look similar, but not identical to their prototypes. Because plastic expands and contracts with temperature far more than does glass, we have found, for instance, that some moisture leakage into the electronics compartment can occur. Cost-effective manufacturing of parts with sophisticated electronics housed in the same device with water under pressure, is also a challenge. The net effect is that these kinds of components are tending to be 10% to 20% larger than our prototype designs. A small re-design of the seal between glass and plastic will be also performed before drip, lawn valve, and sensor production is engaged.
The controller, however, is a highly valuable device which has no such challenges so that it can be delivered significantly earlier than the field devices and can be immediately installed to bring the joy of app-controlled and weather-automated irrigation to your garden. Note that the controller, though ultimately designed to be weather proof, is NOT certified to be so (one reason is extreme, solar-baked temperatures could kill the running unvented electronics in seconds).
As the the valves and field devices come on line, they can easily be added to the existing Blue Marble system. Delivering field devices later allows us to focus more specifically on executing delivery of the controller, which is the heart of the Blue Marble System.
Electronic Chip Supply Hurdles
The home automation and Internet of Things (IoT) industries are changing very rapidly. Already during development, a large integrated circuit manufacturer replaced one of our necessary parts with a new one and then changed the new part yet again. We had to redesign once, and now have to take some time do some minor circuit and firmware redesign again and make the power supply compatible with the electronic parts changes. We do not see much of an issue here except for time for circuit and firmware mods and a slight increase in cost for adding a, now necessary, DC-to-DC converter (which is already reflected in the reward price). We do not expect issues, but we must now spend some extra design, build, and test time to ensure that the new circuit variation works as expected. This is already reflected in the longer delivery time of the field devices.
Blue Marble is advanced and cutting edge distributed fluid control technology and the supply of advanced electronic parts is expected not to, but could, delay assembly and shipping.
We have worked with our experienced contract manufacturer to nail down cost and schedule for injection mold fabrication, printed circuit board production, valve actuator and seal production, and device final assembly. We are confident in being able to execute the production and delivery of your products on schedule and budget. We have reserved a modest margin in our Kickstarter goal to handle any surprises that may happen along the way through production and order fulfillment.
We are working with a fulfillment specialist who, upon first reaching our Kickstarter goal, is standing by and ready to start the management, packaging, and shipping of your orders as they are completed.
With the years of experience of the Blue Marble engineering, manufacturing, and fulfillment team, we are excited to be able to deliver this most useful and amazing new product for your enjoyment.