Smart Aquarium is Coming

shih87

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Smart Aquarium is Coming
“Then I will choose to quit reefing first.”

a4.jpg

Background

Not too long ago I asked a senior reef hobbyist how he deals with long vacations and his answer shocked me.

His words inspired me to create a “smart aquarium.” What I need is a hobby to enjoy and to unwind from work. Yet, does so without pressuring other family members (Yes, I always tell my wife I bought something at an unbelievably discounted price), and still allows me to be free long (3~4 weeks) vacations.

These days, ULM (Ultra Low Maintenance) tanks have become a popular topic. Many reefers and vendors try to define what constitutes ULM. This includes the amount of effort to put in, what kind of coral (e.g. NPS) to avoid, etc. ULM and smart aquariums definitely have some overlap due to similar technological limitations; however, smart aquariums lean more towards automation and managing tank routines, not simply avoiding effort.

The result of my smart aquarium can be found HERE in article format or HERE in video.

a5.jpg

Technology vs fish room

More and more often these days, reef hobbyists share their neat tank systems which are equipped with compact light systems and a well-organized sump integrated with a reef controller and dosing system. Having a medium to large (300 gallons in my opinion) reef tank no longer requires a fish room running loud and heavy duty equipment to be successful. Since Apex and GHL controllers have become available to the saltwater market at a relatively affordable price range, the goal of smart aquariums is half way done. In fact, these systems may even be better than many so called “smart homes” from my view. Many probes (e.g. temperature, PH, ORP, etc.) and sensors (e.g. water level, leaking, voltage, etc.) help tank owners pre-define and program tank behaviors in a manageable way. Their warning and alert functionality, and cloud service push the smart aquarium boundary in a big way.

r2r_2018_2.jpg

Challenges: coral survival rate

But still, coral is a finicky animal and family safety is priceless. We often hear how temperature and alkalinity can cause tank failures. Temperature is easy to measure and adjust with a cooler and a heater, especially with temperature probes connected to the reef controller. Alkalinity has been a totally different story for decades. Luckily, since 2017, Alkalinity monitors became available from companies like Dr. Bridge and GHL. When combined with a remote controllable dosing system, we again push the boundary of smart aquariums.

r2r_2018_1.jpg

Challenges: home safety

Tanks bring water and electricity together in one environment and that entails risk. Preventing bad things from happening is one thing and owning high quality devices help, knowing about it when it happens is another. Spending 50% more for top quality equipment and doubling the effort for tank robustness are gradually become acceptable concepts. Preventing pump failure does not simply mean replacing the pump when you are not around; there could be bigger problems than the couple hundred dollars you save for buying a cheap pump.

You love your tank, every day you meticulously maintain, feed, test and correct, and fix small things before it becomes chaos. But you also want a break and tanks obviously can’t take breaks. Feeding and providing nutrition are low hanging fruits if you have programmable dosing pumps and feeders. Latest generation dosing pumps such as GHL and Apex, all provide cloud services which allow you to control them via mobile phone even from thousands of miles away. Some may say maintenance is not needed for short periods of time, but with extended vacation, some obstacles start to show up. Algae growth on glass, top-off, element consumption ratio change, etc. There are robot algae scrapers available today that may help with algae cleaning, but it did not bother most of us much anyway when nobody is at home. For OTA, some reefers are very successful connecting a RO/DI source to the tank OTA system directly, while others choose a bigger RD/DI container isolated from RO/DI system to avoid equipment failure. Either way has pros and cons, but both are easy enough. I chose to minimize maintenance and to monitor tank condition in real time via IPCams, in case I need to shut off the entire tank’s power, abandoning the tank but keeping the house safe. True experience, after hearing about an earthquake that hit a local town in Taiwan during my vacation, I was able to check these IPCams to comfort myself.

r2r_2018_3.jpg

Room to improve

Saying that, there is always room for improvement from a commercial solution. I chose an Apex controller equipped with an AFS feeder, WaV wave makers, DoS dosing pumps. However, alone they are not enough to reach my “smart aquarium” goal. Apex so far has no Alkalinity probe, so as I said earlier, I choose Dr. Bridge’s KHG to auto test Alkalinity (fig. 1) and link to Apex Fusion for daily access and alert trigger; AFS is a good little toy, but it won’t tell you when a feeder box is empty, so my friends made a weight sensor to read AFS weight daily and text me when it is empty (fig. 2); In general, dosing pump quickly replace calcium reactor position in many reefers’ heart, and Apex DoS is capable to calculate supplement left in container. But no way to count drop in real time, nor to know if tube clog and the supplement does not reach tank, but your floor. Here is a prototype drop counter (fig. 3), detect each drop at the last distance from tube to tank water. Of course, due to quality and robustness concern, my DIY items are limited to non-invasive, data reading only type of devices or tools.

r2r_2018_4.jpg

Future and conclusion

I believe we can expect even more smart aquarium concepts, devices, and solutions to come to the market in the near future instead of DIY projects like mine. I won’t be surprised at all if a company like Neptune Apex, who now has access to millions of users’ data (I guess all tanks using Apex Fusion will have their tank data streamed to the Apex server), will announce a killer application to change our way of reefing. Companies like Zeovit, AquaForest will further provide best coral color improvement recipes. Traditional saltwater test kit providers such as Hanna and Salifert will quickly answer to the threat from newcomers like Neptune, GHL, and Dr. Bridge who try to redefine our daily test experience. Let’s expect these days in the future.


Joseph Chi a.k.a @shih87

r2r_2018_5.jpg
 

Brew12

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Very nice write up!

Right now, I can comfortably leave for a week at a time with no concerns other than feeding. If I want to be gone longer than that I would need an auto skimmer neck cleaner and collector, but those are already available.

I prefer to feed my fish frozen food and dried nori sheets. I do have an auto feeder that "gets by" if no one will be home for a few days but I wouldn't want to feed my system nothing but pellets for more than a week. I feel my fish health would deteriorate.
 

laverda

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Nice info that got me daydreaming.....but...

UltraLowMaintenance tanks require UltraHighBankAccounts

o_O
That is not true at all. I have a very limited budget for my tank. You can pick everything you need used, and save 50-75%. Even if you shop for new carefully you can save a lot. I found several items brand new for less that used ones were selling for. Granted you may not find what your looking for tomorrow.
 
Mega Meltdown After Sale

Peng

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When I see all the fancy tech stuff and all those dosing pumps my head explodes lol I mean I love equipment that simplifies this hobby and reduce amount of daily tasks but to many new reefers the sheer amount of choices especially the number of additives are confusing. In my personal opinion, dosers make our lives easier and save time. But when more than 4 dosing pumps are used I start to wonder if the it's worth it or if the additional additives truly make a difference in color and growth rate. Sometimes when things are simplified and easy people find themselves extra tasks to do.
 

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Great write up, Joseph! Thanks for putting this together!
 

ca1ore

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I don't know, I'd argue that the smart tank is already here, but that automation 'unchecked' in this hobby can be dangerous. Too many hobby-grade devices and a pretty consistent lack of redundancy. I'm all for automation as long as said redundancy is built in and it's used for monitoring and alerting. I will never use the output of a sensor or probe to dose anything. Recipe for disaster in my experience. OK, I travel a lot for business, but have a couple of local reefers 'on call' in case intervention is required. Haven't had to call on them yet.
 
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Mark Gray

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Smart Aquarium is Coming
“Then I will choose to quit reefing first.”

a4.jpg

Background

Not too long ago I asked a senior reef hobbyist how he deals with long vacations and his answer shocked me.

His words inspired me to create a “smart aquarium.” What I need is a hobby to enjoy and to unwind from work. Yet, does so without pressuring other family members (Yes, I always tell my wife I bought something at an unbelievably discounted price), and still allows me to be free long (3~4 weeks) vacations.

These days, ULM (Ultra Low Maintenance) tanks have become a popular topic. Many reefers and vendors try to define what constitutes ULM. This includes the amount of effort to put in, what kind of coral (e.g. NPS) to avoid, etc. ULM and smart aquariums definitely have some overlap due to similar technological limitations; however, smart aquariums lean more towards automation and managing tank routines, not simply avoiding effort.

The result of my smart aquarium can be found HERE in article format or HERE in video.

a5.jpg

Technology vs fish room

More and more often these days, reef hobbyists share their neat tank systems which are equipped with compact light systems and a well-organized sump integrated with a reef controller and dosing system. Having a medium to large (300 gallons in my opinion) reef tank no longer requires a fish room running loud and heavy duty equipment to be successful. Since Apex and GHL controllers have become available to the saltwater market at a relatively affordable price range, the goal of smart aquariums is half way done. In fact, these systems may even be better than many so called “smart homes” from my view. Many probes (e.g. temperature, PH, ORP, etc.) and sensors (e.g. water level, leaking, voltage, etc.) help tank owners pre-define and program tank behaviors in a manageable way. Their warning and alert functionality, and cloud service push the smart aquarium boundary in a big way.

r2r_2018_2.jpg

Challenges: coral survival rate

But still, coral is a finicky animal and family safety is priceless. We often hear how temperature and alkalinity can cause tank failures. Temperature is easy to measure and adjust with a cooler and a heater, especially with temperature probes connected to the reef controller. Alkalinity has been a totally different story for decades. Luckily, since 2017, Alkalinity monitors became available from companies like Dr. Bridge and GHL. When combined with a remote controllable dosing system, we again push the boundary of smart aquariums.

r2r_2018_1.jpg

Challenges: home safety

Tanks bring water and electricity together in one environment and that entails risk. Preventing bad things from happening is one thing and owning high quality devices help, knowing about it when it happens is another. Spending 50% more for top quality equipment and doubling the effort for tank robustness are gradually become acceptable concepts. Preventing pump failure does not simply mean replacing the pump when you are not around; there could be bigger problems than the couple hundred dollars you save for buying a cheap pump.

You love your tank, every day you meticulously maintain, feed, test and correct, and fix small things before it becomes chaos. But you also want a break and tanks obviously can’t take breaks. Feeding and providing nutrition are low hanging fruits if you have programmable dosing pumps and feeders. Latest generation dosing pumps such as GHL and Apex, all provide cloud services which allow you to control them via mobile phone even from thousands of miles away. Some may say maintenance is not needed for short periods of time, but with extended vacation, some obstacles start to show up. Algae growth on glass, top-off, element consumption ratio change, etc. There are robot algae scrapers available today that may help with algae cleaning, but it did not bother most of us much anyway when nobody is at home. For OTA, some reefers are very successful connecting a RO/DI source to the tank OTA system directly, while others choose a bigger RD/DI container isolated from RO/DI system to avoid equipment failure. Either way has pros and cons, but both are easy enough. I chose to minimize maintenance and to monitor tank condition in real time via IPCams, in case I need to shut off the entire tank’s power, abandoning the tank but keeping the house safe. True experience, after hearing about an earthquake that hit a local town in Taiwan during my vacation, I was able to check these IPCams to comfort myself.

r2r_2018_3.jpg

Room to improve

Saying that, there is always room for improvement from a commercial solution. I chose an Apex controller equipped with an AFS feeder, WaV wave makers, DoS dosing pumps. However, alone they are not enough to reach my “smart aquarium” goal. Apex so far has no Alkalinity probe, so as I said earlier, I choose Dr. Bridge’s KHG to auto test Alkalinity (fig. 1) and link to Apex Fusion for daily access and alert trigger; AFS is a good little toy, but it won’t tell you when a feeder box is empty, so my friends made a weight sensor to read AFS weight daily and text me when it is empty (fig. 2); In general, dosing pump quickly replace calcium reactor position in many reefers’ heart, and Apex DoS is capable to calculate supplement left in container. But no way to count drop in real time, nor to know if tube clog and the supplement does not reach tank, but your floor. Here is a prototype drop counter (fig. 3), detect each drop at the last distance from tube to tank water. Of course, due to quality and robustness concern, my DIY items are limited to non-invasive, data reading only type of devices or tools.

r2r_2018_4.jpg

Future and conclusion

I believe we can expect even more smart aquarium concepts, devices, and solutions to come to the market in the near future instead of DIY projects like mine. I won’t be surprised at all if a company like Neptune Apex, who now has access to millions of users’ data (I guess all tanks using Apex Fusion will have their tank data streamed to the Apex server), will announce a killer application to change our way of reefing. Companies like Zeovit, AquaForest will further provide best coral color improvement recipes. Traditional saltwater test kit providers such as Hanna and Salifert will quickly answer to the threat from newcomers like Neptune, GHL, and Dr. Bridge who try to redefine our daily test experience. Let’s expect these days in the future.


Joseph Chi a.k.a @shih87

r2r_2018_5.jpg
Can I ask you where you got your funnel under your Apex feeder
 

GWHouston

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Wonderful tank and write up. I hope you will write more articles and be as detailed as possible on the steps of your design.
 
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shih87

shih87

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Very nice write up!

Right now, I can comfortably leave for a week at a time with no concerns other than feeding. If I want to be gone longer than that I would need an auto skimmer neck cleaner and collector, but those are already available.

I prefer to feed my fish frozen food and dried nori sheets. I do have an auto feeder that "gets by" if no one will be home for a few days but I wouldn't want to feed my system nothing but pellets for more than a week. I feel my fish health would deteriorate.
Pellets definitely not desire food for long term. However, I won't expect that my tank perform "better" when I am not around ;), it is still acceptable by me since I can easy tune performance back when arrive home. If someone has better way to feed frozen food automatically, I would like to learn. My small reefer group has someone tried, but fail in equipment malfunction and cause even bigger issue.
 
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shih87

shih87

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Nice info that got me daydreaming.....but...

UltraLowMaintenance tanks require UltraHighBankAccounts

o_O
Thanks. I think it did have some cost, but not sure ultra bank account. Haha...
Usually poor quality equipment malfunction may cause even bigger and unexpected disaster with much more cost. ;-)
 
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shih87

shih87

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And lets no forget total automation is NOT just for ULM. It's for everybody.
Yes, it is. Many disagree automation, but last time I have an urgent case locked (I am not sure why. Haha) in hospital suddently without any leave home preparation.... My automation and remote management help a lot when I stock in hospital for 5 days. Haha
 

When you feed your fish do you feel like your feeding the algae as well?

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  • Yes but not much

    Votes: 23 50.0%
  • No

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    Votes: 0 0.0%

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