Fun with Hyperlocal Data

/ 5 Pluviôse 231
4 minutes / 789 words

I’ve been drawn to the idea of having many tiny sensors around my home intermittently collecting data points about all sorts of things - the Lumen measurement of our bedroom at night, the noise of the street below us, the AQI of our kitchen.

This was mostly a pipedream until Pimoroni came out with a series of wireless monitors with all sorts of sensors that use a Raspberry Pi PICO to send the data to an endpoint of your choosing.

After a couple months of having these setup around our home (you can see the weather on my patio on the header above!), I figured it was worth writing up a breakdown of my experience setting them up, and explaining how I use them.

The Sensors

Currently, we have three Pimoroni Enviros setup around the house.

  1. An Enviro Grow monitoring our windowsill plants (moisture, light, temperature, humidity)
  2. An Enviro Indoor monitoring our wine cellar/shoe closet (temperature, luminance, aqi, humidity)
  3. An Enviro Urban monitoring our patio (temperature, humidity, air pressure, air quality, outdoor noise)

Setup is very easy, pretty much plug and play. I had to update the firmware, but this isn’t tricky if you’ve tinkered with the Pico before.

These are all fed into Adafruit IO. If I could go back in time, I would have setup an MQTT broker instead of relying on Adafruit - they work for the most part, but have a couple really annoying quirks I’ve either had to ignore, or work around.

Gripes and Annoyances

For the most part, I’m satisfied with the performance of these boards. They take accurate measurements and were easy to setup, but there’s a couple problems I’d like to highlight if you’re thinking of pursuing a similar project:

  1. I cannot, for the life of me, get a consistent moisture reading from our plants They’re all over the place. I can’t tell if this is the nature of wet soil, and how water spreads through it - or an issue from the sensors.
  2. You cannot get a measurement of the remaining battery power in the latest firmware, as reading voltage apparently broke wifi. This means the only way you can tell the batteries have died is when you stop getting readings.
  3. The batteries die way more often then advertised. I was told I would get months of power from a battery pack, and it’s closer to weeks - this is across all boards, not just ones that draw more power, like the Enviro Urban.

My solution for the batteries dying is to simply use rechargeable batteries, instead of throwing out more disposables. I’m experimenting with solar power from the boards in areas with sun, but preliminary testing shows I might not get enough sun on my side of the building for this to work.

If you’d like to pursue solar power yourself, I highly recommend this power board from Adafruit.

A screenshot of an information dashboard showing various graphs and charts

What I Do with the Data

Once it’s all setup, the uses for this kind of sensor data are as many as you can imagine. Here’s a list of what I use mine for:

  1. My plants text me when it’s time to water them
  2. I get a text in the morning combining weather data from my patio with forecast data from Pirate Weather, telling me what to expect for the day.
  3. Through Home Assistant, and an IKEA smart plug, my air filter automatically turns on when outside air quality drops below a threshold.
  4. My browser start page tells me the current temperature and humidity, as well as the sunrise and sunset.
  5. I can track the conditions a bottle of wine has been exposed to since I purchased it (more of a novelty at this point)
  6. I can try my hand at constructing my own (bad) forecasts from historical weather and air pressure data.
  7. I can see how noisy ambience noise is outside, compared to how well I slept that night

Overall, having access to this data is all I’ve ever envisioned it to be. Once it’s there, available with which to do whatever you want, the projects keep inventing themselves. While I’ve had some problems with setup, overall I recommend the Pimoroni Enviro boards, as I think they’re the simplest solution on the market for this kind of work.

They’re coming out with a trail camera board soon, and I’m already cooking up plans for that.

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