Thoughts, stories and ideas.


Automated Plant Watering System - Part 2 - PCB Design and Prototyping

After running the prototype 1 for a week, I wanted to scale up this effort for more of my plants. However efforts to prototype on a PCB blank were a complete mess, so I decided to jump the gun.



Design Goals:

It was clear that running one MCU per plant was not effective, at the same time I wanted configurability and thus compromises had to be made.

  1. Run on AA batteries or 3.7v LiPo cells.
  2. Control at least 2 Motors
  3. Configure using 2 push buttons with ability to bypass it to use other peripherals such as a soil sensor.
  4. Accommodate both Attiny85 bare IC as well as Digispark.

Bill of materials:

  1. Digispark Attiny85 or bare IC.
  2. 2x NPN Transistors (I used BC547 at hand)
  3. 2x Diodes (I used LEDs due to lack of proper diodes)
  4. 2x 3v Submersible DC Pumps
  5. 1x LED for feedback display
  6. 1x battery pack (min 3v)


Design was fairly similar to earlier prototype with just few more ports.

The design phase involved both schematic design as well as PCB footprint design using KiCad. I made use of hierarchical sheets to "re-use" the schematic design for a single motor.


I used the "Save/Restore Layout" plugin to do the same in PCB mode.



It turned out that the use of a push button without a pull down resistor makes it unusable, due to which am now relying on manual programming.

The duration is programmed to be 2 seconds of watering for every 2 hours, which appears to be adequate for my basil and coriander plants

The code itself was similar to earlier version.

PCB Fabrication

The final step was to export Gerber files, containing Image/SVG representation of all individual layers such as copper front and back, silkscreen for info, soldermask, vias, etc.

A key element of design that I missed during first iteration was the edge cuts which is the SVG layer outlining how the PCB has to be cut.

All the exported files were zipped and sent to pcbway. The fabbed PCBs arrived less than a week later. As shipping was the most expensive part of the process, I might perhaps combine multiple designs into a PCB order so they arrive together.

KiCad Note:

Install plugins by copying files from

  • Source: https://github.com/MitjaNemec/Kicad_action_plugins.git
  • Destination (macOS): /Applications/KiCad/kicad.app/Contents/SharedSupport/scripting/plugins/

Automated Plant Watering System - Part 1

As I finally found sometime at hand, I decided to attend to one of my long standing projects to automate watering of my plants, which have been through stressful troughs of famine and crests of over-watering.




One of the goals were that the system should last long enough while running off a battery. Secondary goals was the use of soil moisture sensors to optimize further.

Bill of materials:

  1. Digispark Attiny85
  2. Common NPN Transistor
  3. 3.7V LiPo
  4. 3V DC Pump
  5. Diode (or LED)


Its a straight forward circuit with the MCU's output controlling the P of NPN Transistor. The Transistor serves to amplify the current as the DC motors are rated at 200mA while Attiny85 is only able to deliver few milliAmps of current.

I modified Digispark Attiny85 by disconnecting the onboard voltage regulator as it consumes ~1mA of current even when the MCU is in deep sleep. As Attiny85 is rated from 2.7v-5.5v the 3.7v LiPo's 4.1v output would be well within the required voltage range.

A DC Motor is an inductor - so when the motor is turned off, the stored energy in the motor flows back as reverse current. It can be powerful enough to damage the MCU, so a diode connected in reverse is needed. Due to lack of components I improvised by the use of a common LED connected in reverse.

Circuit Diagram

The Program

The MCU is programmed to wake up every second via a watchdog timer interrupt. On wake, it checks if it needs to turn on or turn off the output, performs it and goes back to sleep. This means the MCU is asleep even when the motor is running. The ON/OFF state is maintained with the count of wake up cycles rather than milliseconds - this works as each sleep cycle is 1 second.

Digispark's Attiny85's fuses are set at 16Mhz but the input is not exactly stable due the absense of voltage regulatr, this can lead to drift in timekeeping of few minutes per day.

#include <avr/sleep.h>
#include <avr/interrupt.h>
#include <avr/wdt.h>

#define adc_disable() (ADCSRA &= ~(1<<ADEN)) // disable ADC (before power-off)
#define adc_enable()  (ADCSRA |=  (1<<ADEN)) // re-enable ADC

#define MPIN 1

unsigned int lpCntr=0;
unsigned int isOn=0;
const unsigned int onInterval = 2; // 2 sleep cycles
const unsigned int offInterval = 60 * 60; //(60 * 60 * 6) - onInterval; //round it off to 6 hours
const unsigned int repInterval = onInterval + offInterval;

void setup() {
  for(int i=0; i<6; i++) {
    pinMode(i, INPUT);
    digitalWrite(i, LOW);

  wdt_reset();          //watchdog reset
  wdt_enable(WDTO_1S);  //1s watchdog timer
  WDTCR |= _BV(WDIE);   //Interrupts watchdog enable
  sei();                //enable interrupts

void loop() {

  // Loop counter reset
  if( lpCntr >= repInterval ) {
    lpCntr = lpCntr % repInterval;

  // Loop counter began, so write high
  if( lpCntr == 0 ) {
    pinMode(MPIN, OUTPUT);
    digitalWrite(MPIN, HIGH);
  if( isOn == 1 && lpCntr >= onInterval ) {
    // Reset the output to LOW if we are done
    pinMode(MPIN, OUTPUT);
    digitalWrite(MPIN, LOW);



ISR (WDT_vect) {