protoTYPING: SmartTerra

protoTYPING: SmartTerra

One of my hobbies and great passions is gardening.

So, I was thrilled when Suriyont (Suri) Mujjalintrakool brought his connected terrarium prototype to the Enventys Partners office for development and marketing services.

Dubbed the SmartTerra, Suri’s IoT enabled terrarium brings the beauty and theater of the natural world into a perfectly controlled environment to be enjoyed in the home or office.

A software developer from Rhode Island, Suri and his partner, Chattrapat Jirathanyapat (nicknamed Moo), did a great job building a working prototype. However, they needed extra marketing and development help to maximize the potential of the device, and the Enventys Partners team was the perfect firm to help.

The SmartTerra intelligent terrarium

Suri and Moo wanted to create a terrarium that was peaceful, beautiful and had the ability to take care of itself.

“Just having a regular terrarium is not good enough for me…I had to add something, some sense of nature into it,” recalls Suri.

The prototype they built to prove the concept featured an Arduino as the base for the control system and had an LCD in the lid with a knob for user input. Suri programmed different themes to change the color of the LED lights for different moods, and created a rainstorm routine that would flash the LEDs like lighting and engage a pump to sprinkle the terrarium in light rain. It even had speakers to play soothing nature sounds and thunder claps during the lighting storm. It had all of the functional elements he wanted, but it needed a little extra to be successful in a crowdfunding campaign. The challenge for the Enventys Partners development team was to keep the core of Suri’s great concept and function, while adding smartphone control and feedback to the device, all within an iconic and inspiring design.

Suri and Moo’s prototype

The redesign started with the industrial design team. Led by Rae McNeil, the design team thoroughly explored a number of different forms, shapes and aspect ratios. The purpose of the device is to let the form of the plants dominate, so simple and light forms quickly became the preferred options.

“When designing the SmartTerra product we really wanted to capture the essence of what the client really wanted to do, and that was a “Zenful”, open, peaceful atmosphere,” notes McNeil. “What we arrived at was a really simple, elegant uplifted platform that puts the plants on a pedestal.”

The chosen design direction featured a split base with the central pillar doubling as the water fill-point. A central spine in the rear ties the base to the thin lid, letting the tank and the plants take center stage.

ID Sketch concept with callouts

The design was then transferred to the engineering team to make the design functional. Clay Trotter led the CAD design. Working closely with the industrial design team, he used SolidWorks CAD software to detail out the base, fill port, main tank and the lid. Particular attention was given to the design to make sure that the parts could be made easily by injection molding.

The biggest design challenge was allowing water and electrical connections into the lid for the rain and LEDs while still allowing it to hinge and hold in the open position. The final design included a custom metal friction hinge with passageways carved out for the electronics and water that would not pinch any of the conduits.

CAD File of the SmartTerra

While the CAD work was being finalized, the electronics team designed the circuit board. Since the device needed to have both Bluetooth and Wi-fi capability, the team chose the ESP32 platform. This inexpensive module gave the team connectivity and plenty of inputs and outputs to control the device. The main circuit board was designed to fit perfectly in the central spine, and a daughter board was designed to hold the RGB LEDs in the lid.

Once the mechanical and electrical systems were designed, it was time to prototype.

Most of the physical parts were machined from plastic. This technique was chosen over 3D printing because large 3D prints can be prone to warping, and the main tank needed to be optically clear, which is not easy to do with 3D printing. The parts were then test fit and assembled and, after a little bit of tuning, they were painted in gloss and matte white to simulate the texture change that will be on the molded parts. A chrome vinyl cut decal of the logo was then added to the lid to complete the assembly.

SmartTerra prototype during rain testing

The circuit files were sent to a quick turn PCB manufacturer and we had boards back in Charlotte in about 10 days. The electronics were placed on the board and put in our reflow oven to solder them in place. The code for the sensors, speakers and pump were uploaded on to the board and the team began their rigorous testing regime. The team spent about a week working on the rain track, adjusting the diameter of the holes and the speed of the pump to get the rain to look natural. Step by step, the rest of the functionality was added to the prototype.

SmartTerra main circuit board

All of this work culminated in the launch of the product on Kickstarter. The prototype was looking and working great, but we knew we needed an inspiring plant layout in the unit to really show off the great functionality. The team reached out to a local terrarium artist in Concord, NC, named Linda Barnett. She came to the Enventys Partners office and created a beautiful Zen forest complete with a tiny pebble pathway and an Asian inspired figurine. She even did a time lapse build of a desert scene with succulent plants as an additional asset for the campaign.

The Kickstarter campaign was launched on February 6th, 2018, and raised about $20,000 in the first few days. Halfway through the campaign, the development team demonstrated the product on Kickstarter Live, and took questions from the audience. It successfully funded with 328 backers and nearly $100,000, almost doubling the funding goal. With consumer interest verified the team has changed focus to finalizing the design files for manufacturing in anticipation of working with a factory to mass manufacture the device.

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