Networked and programmable garden devices fall into four main categories: robotic lawnmowers, sprinklers, sensors and outdoor lighting. Individual systems usually have associated apps that let users control the installations and devices remotely via smartphones and see how the garden is doing at any time.
Some of these products have evolved from technology already common in commercial agriculture that allows farmers to control their water and fertilizer resources and monitor the condition of their produce through the Internet of Things (IoT).
IEC develops an extensive range of international standards for the batteries, sensors, motors and other components used in electric gardening appliances aimed at domestic users. Safety and ease of operation are primary considerations.
Robotic mowers make the cut
Robotic lawnmowers are the best‑selling smart gardening consumer product. They are powered by battery packs, typically lithium-ion, recharged from an AC‑powered base station. Unlike traditional lawnmowers, robotic mowers cut only the tips of the grass, but do so regularly. Prices range from around USD 450 for a model for smaller gardens up to USD 3 500 for a mower that will cut up to half an hectare.
Most robotic mowers need hidden boundary wires to keep them within the area to be trimmed and guide them back to the outdoor charging station. The latest high‑end models use wireless beacons in the ground to calculate their position, and can operate autonomously after an initial manual training run to learn the layout. Some have built‑in sensors to detect garden structures and other obstacles.
Advanced robotic mowers include rain sensors and can access weather forecasts online. Users can connect to smartphones, mobile devices and artificial intelligence (AI)‑powered virtual assistants like Amazon's Alexa and Google Assistant to start and stop mowers through voice control and set up mowing schedules. Safety devices include lift and tilt sensors to turn the mower off in potentially dangerous situations.
IEC Technical Committee 116: Safety of motor-operated electric tools, prepares international safety standards for hand-held and transportable motor-operated electric tools and gardening appliances. Particular requirements apply for robotic battery‑powered electrical lawnmowers.
The global market for robotic lawnmowers grew fourfold from USD 200 million in 2012 to USD 800 million in 2018, and is predicted to reach USD 1 billion in 2022, according to a report by Euromonitor home and technology senior analyst Stefano Botter in February 2019.
The ease of use of domestic robotic lawnmowers with intelligent programming, accompanied by the increasing availability of low-cost mowers from China, is likely to boost sales to home gardeners.
Current models of cordless garden tools and appliances use mainly lithium-ion batteries that can provide higher charges, longer run time, less self-discharge and quicker charging than their nickel‑cadmium equivalents.
The work of IEC TC 21: Secondary cells and batteries, helps manufacturers increase battery efficiency, while making them more affordable to the public.
As more and more hand-held and transportable motor-operated electric tools and gardening appliances use batteries, SC 21A, which prepares standards for portable batteries among other types, plays an essential role in the development of cordless tools and gardening appliances.
Just add water
Smart irrigation systems use sensors to monitor soil moisture levels around plants and water the garden accordingly, helping to save water. They can integrate with existing irrigation equipment, adjust sprinklers based on soil type and exposure to the sun, and generate a smart watering schedule based on the garden’s location and vegetation.
Advanced irrigation systems adjust automatically to provide the right amount of water based on local weather conditions. In addition to soil moisture sensors, they incorporate data from weather forecasts and plant-care databases to prevent overwatering when rain is imminent.
Smart watering systems can be controlled remotely through smartphone‑based apps and virtual assistants
Sales of smart sprinkler controllers for domestic use reached around USD 390 million in 2017, according to the Indian company 360 Research Reports.
Connecting sprinklers and sensors
Many smart gardening applications bring together sensors and web‑connected garden sprinklers and lawn irrigation systems.
Devices incorporating various sensors can let home gardeners know when lawns and plants are drying out, whether they are getting enough or too much light and even if the soil is right or not. They use sensors to measure pH, temperature, light levels and nutrients as well as moisture and humidity, and send the data to smartphone apps.
Connected apps analyse these variables and cross-check them with plant databases to offer gardeners customized advice on what to plant and when. They can alert users to changing weather conditions such as potential flooding, sudden temperature drops and high winds.
International standards prepared by TC 47: Semiconductor devices, SC 47E: Discrete semiconductor devices, and SC 47F: Microelectromechanical systems, enable manufacturers to build more reliable and efficient sensors and microelectromechanical systems (MEMS) used in these connected devices. TC 56: Dependability, covers the reliability of electronic components and equipment.
Helping your garden glow
Weatherproof outdoor smart lights, including colour-changing lights and motion‑activated lights that sync with a home security system, can brighten up outdoor spaces and light up dark areas. They offer enhanced security as they can be programmed to come on at specific times, or connected to motion sensors.
Outdoor LED lights give off extremely strong light at very low watts. Users can turn lights on and off, change brightness and set the colour of the lighting with an app via a smartphone or voice commands to a smart speaker.
Some smart lights require a hub, similar to a Wi-Fi router, that connects separate outdoor lights together, but the majority of smart garden lights do not.
International standards for lamps, electric light and lighting solutions are developed by TC 34: Lamps and related equipment. Several subcommittees of TC 34 deal with special projects in the area of new technologies including LEDs and OLEDs.
Safety is a paramount consideration with all garden tools, whether they are traditional plug-in models or programmable cordless devices such as robotic lawnmowers. Mowers and other tools like hedge trimmers have a safety switch to prevent accidental starting. Other safety features will automatically stop a robotic lawnmower if it is lifted up or turned over, and reduce its speed as soon as it senses a nearby object.
Manufacturers have also enlisted virtual reality (VR) technology to give gardeners the opportunity to try out and learn how to operate power tools such as hedge trimmers in a safe simulated environment before purchasing and using these potentially dangerous products.