Discussion on artificial ants nests including Test Tubes, Soil Nests, Foraging Areas and Ytong Nests
User avatar
By ManicaLuca
Hello Everyone,

As mentioned a little while ago, I am working on a project that will automate many environmental control and monitoring functions with your formicaria.

The finished product will of course be an AntKit product, but this project will be different. The entire product will be open source so anyone wanting to build their own, modify, develop further etc will be able to do so freely without restriction. The schematics, drawings, software and source code will be published on product completion.

The current confirmed hardware features are as follows:
1 x OLED Screen
2 x DS18B20 Temperature Probe inputs
2 x AM2302 Temperature / Humidity Probe inputs
2 x 2AMP Solid State Relay Outputs (Presenting as either 2 x UK/EU/USA Power Sockets, or 2 x PTC 12v Heating Element Connectors)
1 x Mechanical General Purpose Relay Output (For lights, cooling fans, etc)
1 x Peristaltic Pump Module (For refilling water reservoirs with a specific quantity of water etc)
1 x Nest resistivity sensor (To determine how dry a soil or Ytong nest is)
1 x USB Port (For PC connection)
1 x SPI LED Strip Output

This controller will allow you to fully automate your ant setup.

It will refill your reservoirs, set night and day temperatures, control misters and fans, control most commercial heat mats and cables, set day / night brightness levels for lights including the colour (eg. white in the day, red at night) and so much more. It will present a wide range of information (including the species name, in case you forget!) on the build in OLED display.

The system will be modular so you can add or remove functions as required.

The USB port will allow you to download profiles, read logs, update firmware and potentially connect to the internet for remote control.

For those that like to tinker, the software will be made to be easy to tweak and modify so you may repurpose it to control your greenhouse or fish tank if you so wanted to.

I should have some preliminary pictures / videos in the next few days once I have made the massive jumble of circuits, wires and sensors a little more presentable ;)

I estimate the first units would be ready for testing in the next 4-6 weeks with a couple of free units for selected forum members to have a play with and give feedback (the selection process will be announced in due course).

Retail price? No idea at the moment but the basic setup including sensors would be somewhat less than £50.

Thoughts, feedback, ideas and feature requests all gratefully received.

- Luca
Osterytteren liked this
User avatar
By formica123
Sounds amazing!
It's exactly what I need when going on holiday, with long trips like the ones I too earlier this year.
I could leave my ants in peace - without the thought of relatives treating them wrongly.
Definetely something I would purchase!
User avatar
By Daubz1977
I would definitely be buying them, it £40 for a pulse stat which only controls heat, would you be able to run more than one heater or heater and mister from it
User avatar
By ManicaLuca
Daubz1977 wrote:I would definitely be buying them, it £40 for a pulse stat which only controls heat, would you be able to run more than one heater or heater and mister from it

Yes it would be able to control at least 2 heaters and 2 low-current accessories (misters, fans, lights, etc). There may be an option to extend the number of outputs even further if there is a need to.
User avatar
By ManicaLuca
There are no buttons on this. It's a set-and-forget device, but there will be a port on the back for a keypad to allow you to control the device and set it up without a PC. Bluetooth connectivity is looking likely.
User avatar
By Daubz1977
Sounds really good, I was planning on running 2 pulse state on some of my set ups, this will work out much cheaper.

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By Daubz1977
Look brilliant, can't wait to get one

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By Simon
It sounds great and I will most likely buy one, only criticism is that I'm not really a fan of the housing going by that picture. Looks like a resin block of sorts? Perhaps it might look better black?
User avatar
By Leafcutter
Aesthetics can be improved whenever but the essential electronics are still there. I run my Raspberry Pi AntCam just as the motherboard connected with the connectors, I don't use cases ;).

Looks like great idea for advances in ant environment control.
User avatar
By ManicaLuca
Leafcutter wrote:Qr Bbpost A seed dispenser for Messor species would be great.

Easy enough. One of the motor outputs used for the peristaltic pumps could drive an auger feeder motor instead. :)

Simon wrote:Qr Bbpost only criticism is that I'm not really a fan of the housing going by that picture. Looks like a resin block of sorts? Perhaps it might look better black?

The housing was "thrown" together on a 3D printer, just to keep the electronics tidy for the purpose of development. The final product would have production quality IP65 casing.
User avatar
By ManicaLuca
Small progress has been made over the past few days. I've been simplifying the parts count and making considerations about ease of modification and future expandability.

Slightly technical details follows:

WIFI is now definitely going to be an option. Not sure if to include it as standard but i'm definitely putting the provision in there. Makes sense, it's cheap to include in the design but opens up a lot of doors to allow easy setup and control (via smartphone for example) and can alert you by email, mobile notifications, tweets, etc. It will also keep perfect time by NTP and react to times of day (like sunrise and sunset) and ambient weather conditions (reduce humidity dosing if rain forecast).

I am going to max out the number of inputs and outputs so that we can get as many sensors or output devices as the processor allows. The sensors themselves will connect to a universal bus for simple setup and easy expansion. Keeps the costs low too for the end users as they can chose what sensors, heaters, relays, lights, pumps etc they want to install and not be limited by the controller.

The OLED display connector has been designed so that it can be built-in to the main unit, or as a separate small device that can be clipped or stuck onto the side of the tank or located somewhere convenient.

Here's a rough layout of the board using dummy components of the same size:


Based on this, the controller box will be about 8 x 12 x 4 CM in size.

I've incorporated a voltage controller and power supply, this will mean the controller itself should be able to power dosing pumps, LED lighting and PTC heaters directly without the need of additional power.
User avatar
By Daubz1977
Sounds amazing can't wait to see the finished product, don't care what out looks like, you could make it look like Susan Boyle but if it does what you say I will be a very happy man

Sent from my SM-G900F using Tapatalk
User avatar
By RobJ
Is this project dead. Or can I buy one ?
User avatar
By RobJ
ManicaLuca wrote:The project is not dead. The first boards arrived last week.

Oh great news.
User avatar
By RobJ
Any chance of a update on this project as after reading your technical post it is got me really interested and wanting more :) Things like email alerts,fan control, heat control is exciting to me to say the least

User avatar
By ManicaLuca
There hasn't been any more progress over the Christmas break. I'll get back to work on it in a couple of weeks.

User avatar
By RobJ
How's this project coming along? They would really come in handy ;)

User avatar
By RobJ
Yes I saw that looks like a branded one. What I most want is a way to get the probe into the nest like a port or something.
User avatar
By nortorn
may i ask if there has been any progress lately?
I am experimenting with something like this myself using an arduino, a few relais, OLed´s etc.
The problems I have are:

1) Time (lack of)
2) Microcontroller technology moves faster than the design.

I'm taking it back to basics now and have ditched the arduino compatible controller with seperate bluethooth and ESP8266 and moving to just the ESP32 with the plan to make it homekit compatible :D

But that brings me back to issue 1!

We'll have to get something up on github :)
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