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Old 03-05-2005, 06:21 PM   #1
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Is an automated control system possible?

I don't yet have a saltwater aquarium, but I plan on building my own in the next 2-3 years. So right now I am in the research/planning stage.

Is it possible to build a "self correcting" aquarium? I am an engineering student right now so if it is possible I think I could figure out a way to build it.

Would it be possible to build a system that can automatically correct pH, nitrate, ammonia...etc?

I know you can't plan on unexpected failure of certain parts, but taking that out of the equation could it be done?

I'm mainly interested in this as a safety net for times I go on vacations or can't attend to the tank. You can't always trust people to know what they are doing with your tank.

Opinions?
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Old 03-05-2005, 06:55 PM   #2
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You might appreciate this 1997 design from the Milwaukee School of Engineering. . .


Abstract
Many aquarium hobbyists and fish enthusiasts would agree that having an aquarium that completely cares for and monitors the aquarium environment would be a priceless asset to their hobby. The general scope of this project is to do just that. The Automated Aquarium will have the ability to sense and control the pH, temperature, and salinity of the water.



I hope you can improve on what they did back then and post it to the DIY forum.
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Old 03-05-2005, 07:50 PM   #3
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There are several controllers available now that will automate some of the levels in the tank...but nothing (that I know of) that will automate to the degree you're talking about. For instance, a calcium reactor coupled to a pH controller will keep calcium and pH within the desired parameters. That's two of the big ones. Auto top off is easy to do and I believe automated water changes wouldn't be difficult to set up although you'd have to keep SW mixed up. Temp control is no problem...a dual channel temp controller will control the heater and chiller. Auto feeders are available. Ammonia/nitrite should never be a problem in a cycled tank so I wouldn't even bother with them. Nitrate presents a problem in that to test for it (AFAIK), you must first convert it to nitrite, then measure it. Water changes and efficient biofiltration will take care of nitrates though so, IMO, that isn't really an issue. Check out some of the multicontrollers that are on the market now such as the Neptune Aquacontroller II and the Aquadyne Octopus. These are very capable units and will handle most of the things that really would benefit from automation...again, IMO. They will even call you if something goes wrong. No amount of automation or controllers will ever take the place, or equal IMO, the hobbiest's knowledge and manual testing of water parameters. Even more than that is visual inspections. I know what you're saying about being gone and I think it's entirely possible, either with enough money to buy what's already available or with enough knowledge to build it, to automate the tank to a degree that it can take care of itself for a couple of weeks. Boy...I got carried away with this one didn't I? 8O
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Old 03-05-2005, 07:57 PM   #4
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I googled Automated Aquarium and found this page. Looks like it has been thought of already and completely possible.

http://www.automatedaquariums.com/

Even if I do build something like this I won't be posting about it for a few years.

Thanks for the input, that should make it a lot easier.
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Old 03-05-2005, 08:04 PM   #5
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Yeah, the software is definitely not up to todays standards. I can't believe they don't have something out that's designed for XP. However, checking one of my wholesale catalogs turned up that Aquadyne's "Aquaweb II" is compatible with Win 2000 so, chances are, it would work OK with XP. I'm thinking that Neptune's "Aquanotes 3.0 is a Win 95 (anybody remember Win 95?) based program. Auto control is something that interests me, and many others on here I'm sure, so don't hesitate to throw out any ideas you may have. I wonder if anyone has written a control program for Linux?
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Old 03-05-2005, 08:10 PM   #6
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I looked closer and there is something compatable with XP, so I edited that part out of the post. Still pretty pricey. I have people who could whip something up for a case of beer if needed.
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Old 03-05-2005, 08:20 PM   #7
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Yeah, you can get things done for a case of beer that money couldn't buy you. Keep us posted as to what you come up with though...as I said, I find it very interesting.
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Old 03-06-2005, 11:01 PM   #8
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I've spent about 12 hours researching since I came upon this idea. I am considering making a business out of this.

So my question to everyone (please answer, this is very important to me)...

How much would you be willing to pay for a system that can automatically measures and corrects temp, pH, nitrates, nitrites, ammonia, SG, copper, and alkalinity?
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Old 03-07-2005, 09:32 AM   #9
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The hardware exists to do this. All that's needed is someone to write the software to work with the hardware.

So, I assume the price that you're asking about would be for the software and not the hardware, correct? Or would it be a whole system? The problem with a whole system is that it would need to be modular as some people would only want some things controlled but not others.

Also, I think it's really hard to put a price on software without seeing the software/system first. It all depends on what it looks like, how easy it is to use, how configurable is it, etc... All this adds or subtracts to the price.

Now, that being said, IMO if someone's going to design the software/system to do this, they should view it as something to help others out or as a fun project, not a 'get rich, put a high price on it, how much can I make' project. Once this is built, maybe you can assign a small price on it as a way to help re-coup some costs and time spent on the project.

There are many DIY projects posted on websites that people could have charged money for but haven't as a way to help the hobby out. And I'm sure there are a lot of people on here that would be willing to help you out with this in testing, building, etc. I know I would be willing to help test and give feedback (as it's a part of what I do for my daily job anyway).

I'm also thinking of trying to automate a 120gal Reef system that I will be keeping a log on and posting on DIY forums once done with. However, I'm not a computer programmer so I've been asking some friends if they would help me get started with some of that but it looks like it's going to take a lot of time and money to get it working. Who knows if this will ever take off but we'll see..
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Old 03-07-2005, 01:22 PM   #10
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It is do-able....however, it would not be inexpensive nor easy, and you would have to be very sure of the reliability of the system and software before you trusted your reef to it (can you imagine coming home after a long weekend away, only to discover that the program or computer had crashed Friday night?).
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Old 03-07-2005, 02:05 PM   #11
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Large aquariums use something called an ozone replicator in order to not have so much husbandry to do.
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Old 03-07-2005, 05:43 PM   #12
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Since I'm new to SW I'm learning as I go, and I came across the Octopus 3000 system.

Does anyone have this system or something similar? As far as I can tell it just monitors the water, nothing corrective.
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Old 03-07-2005, 05:52 PM   #13
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I do not want to discourage you from your hunt but salt-water aquariums are a lot of work. Most parts of this work cannot be avoided. Steps that get missed show up in time because salt water is such a hard environment to maintain in an unnatural environment.

I live this every day of my life. When my husband and I decided to do a salt-water tank I thought that you could just put all the cool stuff in and not really worry about it… Wow was I wrong! For the last 4 or 5 months we have been battling cynobacteria and hair algae. Hair algae is not bad really as long as you have fish and stuff that will maintain it for you, but it is not that pretty.

Unless you are prepared to spend a lot of time with your tank and a lot of money on your tank, I would not do it. I have heard that the ozone simulators help a lot to control the PH and all of the water but they are very pricy. I know of nothing else that is smart enough to maintain the system for you.
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Old 03-07-2005, 08:21 PM   #14
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Hmm...I'm not sure what it would be worth, but I'd like to make the following observations...in addition to what has already been said. You mentioned correcting ammonia and nitrite. These will not be an issue in a cycled tank that is properly maintained. If these do show up in a measurable concentration in a cycled tank, there is a big problem somewhere that will need human interference...quickly. Nitrates are another one. As I said before, testing for nitrates requires that the nitrates first be converted to nitrite...then the nitrite is measured. Nitrates can be easily controlled with proper nutrient export and water changes. Both of these are easily automated. There are several different ways to export nutrients with the protein skimmer probably being the most prevalent although macro/mud based refugiums are gaining popularity quickly. Water changes can be automated using a couple of pumps, a couple of timers, and float or pressure switches. Ozone injection can be controlled with an ORP controller. Cal/alk levels can be controlled, to an extent, with an efficient cal reactor coupled to a pH controller. Salinity stays pretty constant in a properly designed system as the only salt that is exported from the system is via the skimate produced by the skimmer and whatever salt creep occurs. Either of these would take a long time to affect the salinity of a med-large size system. Automated fresh water top off would keep salinity very stable. Temp control is easily controlled, even in extreme conditions, with a dual channel temp controller coupled with a properly sized heater and chiller. Copper is and absolute unconditional NO-NO in a reef tank because it will kill inverts indiscriminately. It can be used in a FO tank but needs to be dosed very carefully and only if there is a disease present that requires it's use. IMO, if this is the case, the tank requires the daily attention of it's owner until the situation is resolved. I'm not trying to discourage you at all. As I've said, this is something that interests me. I just wanted to point out some things that I don't think you'd need to automate and, IMO, the reasons for that. I'll look forward to hearing your thoughts and ideas and I'll help if I can.
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Old 03-07-2005, 08:58 PM   #15
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Thanks for the input, keep them coming. I understand the work involved in SW aquariums, and my first reading item just came today. "The New Marine Aquarium" by Michael Paletta.

I don't intend on this system completely replacing human knowledge and interaction, but I think it would be a great safety net.

I'm learning as much as I can as quickly as possible, and I think if I decide it is very feasible I will try to start planning the actual design over the summer.

Thanks again, input from everyone is appreciated.
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Old 03-07-2005, 10:37 PM   #16
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Sounds as if your trying to take away the very thing most people enjoy about having a reef tank, now I'm sure their are some lazy folks out their that would enjoy a gadget but for me personally I enjoy spending time and caring for my tank, anyone can hook up a gadget and grow a beautiful reef tank with what your describing but not everyone has the patience and so called green thumb to do it all by hand, Not trying to raise a stink just give you my honest oppinion
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Old 03-07-2005, 11:10 PM   #17
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I thought about that side too. Exactly why I'm glad to hear everyone's opinions.
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Old 03-07-2005, 11:49 PM   #18
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IMO, having some automation in place doesn't have to take away from the enjoyment of caring for the tank. I'm interested in it for two reasons. One, I've had several wealthy customers inquire about having a reef tank set up in their homes. To a person, not one of them wanted to do much, if any, work to it...just have it sit there and look pretty. They wanted me to do all the maintenance. One guy didn't even want to be bothered with feeding the fish...I declined to give him a quote on a tank setup. Anyway, in this situation, I would need some automation to keep things on an even keel between visits. Two, I think it would be nice to know the electronic box was keeping an eye on things in my tank when I wasn't around. The right combination of events could wipe out a tank while you were at work. Having an electronic watchdog that would call your cellphone or send you an email, and that is a currently available option on some controllers, might avert a terrible disaster. JMHO anyway. OK, three reasons...I love gadgets .
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Old 03-08-2005, 09:51 AM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Thumper
I enjoy spending time and caring for my tank, anyone can hook up a gadget and grow a beautiful reef tank with what your describing but not everyone has the patience and so called green thumb to do it all by hand
I agree with you. While it can be a real pain in the arse when things go wrong, it is one of the most relaxing activates I am blessed with on a daily basis. Sure when things do go wrong and I am battling bad bacteria I curse the tank and say its not worth it... but God knows I do not mean it. My tank is my second Yoga. If I did not have it to clean and maintain I think I would not sleep so well at night.
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Old 03-08-2005, 10:17 AM   #20
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How much would you be willing to pay for a system that can automatically measures and corrects temp, pH, nitrates, nitrites, ammonia, SG, copper, and alkalinity?


For me, not much. A reef tank is a great hobby for a tinkerer and I like to tinker with my tank. I also like building things myself. I also like as much of the engineering in my tank to be mechanical rather than electrical. Looking at that "automated" system - it's all at the mercy of an electrical cord.
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