Green thumb app tells users when plants need watering

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Wilted, starving, thirsty houseplants could soon be getting more tender loving care thanks to a new plant sensor and app that tells owners when it is time for watering and feeding.

The Koubachi Wifi Plant Sensor, which is placed in the soil of the potted plant, connects with a smartphone app that alerts users when plants need watering, misting, fertilizer or more sun or shade.

"There's very little information when you buy a plant. Most of the time there's a little sticker that will say it needs a medium amount of light and water every few days. But that's very rough and doesn't apply for most plants," said Phillipp Bolliger, the inventor of the system and CEO of Koubachi AG, which is based in Zurich, Switzerland.

The sensor collects data such as soil moisture, light intensity and ambient temperature, which is sent to the app, available for iOS devices and through the web.

Bolliger said water monitoring is particularly important.

"The problem people run into most often is that they give too much water -- that's the main cause of killing plants," he explained in an interview.

The data is used to customize care plans, delivered via the app, for more than 135 species of plants, including orchids, tomatoes and umbrella plants. The care plans were developed in conjunction with plant physiologists at ETH Zurich, the Swiss Institute of Technology.

Bolliger said the plant care plans can be accessed through the app without purchasing a sensor, but they are more accurate when paired with it.

"We run different experiments with a lot of different plant types in the greenhouse," said Bolliger. "We have our experts assess the vitality of the plant. Then we verify our models given the actual expert analysis of the plant's vitality."

He added that it is not necessary to purchase a sensor, which costs 100 euros, for each plant because there is a multi-plant feature that allows the system to learn the specifics of the plant in a few weeks, depending on the size of the plant. It will have enough information to tailor the plant care plan and the sensor can then be used in a different plant.

The sensor, which took about three years to develop, can run for more than a year on a single set of batteries, according to Bolliger.

"It kind of resembles a stone that is in the plant," he said.

The app, which is free, is available worldwide from the App Store in English and German and there are plans for French and Japanese versions.

The sensor is sold only online at store.koubachi.com. The company is planning to expand its distribution to local retailers in the United States and Canada.
© Thomson Reuters 2012

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