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GARDEN TECH

 

STANDFIRST

Every room in your home is probably stuffed to the rafters with enough technology to sink a small battleship but what about the garden? Don’t worry, there are plenty of outdoor gadgets and gizmos to entertain and make your life easier and keep you in touch during those long hot summer days and nights…

 

COPY

In most gardens cutting edge technology usually means the scary sharp bits that whiz around inside lawn mowers and hedge trimmers but your garden doesn’t have to be a high-tech wilderness. With a little effort and help from your flexible friend your back yard can be bought into line with the rest of your home.

 

Just because there are no phone sockets in your garden that doesn’t mean you have to loose touch with the outside world. If you haven’t already got one get a DECT digital cordless phone and at the first opportunity install a Wi-Fi wireless network on your desktop PC, so you can take your laptop outside and catch up with work, surf the web or check your emails on your laptop. On a good day, with the wind in the right direction Wi-Fi links and DECT phones operate at distances of up to 100 metres from the base station, which should be more than enough for those not living in a stately pile.

 

If you’ve got a broadband connection don’t forget that you can listen to streamed music and radio stations on the web or download some MP3 files on your laptop and listen to some music while you work. The trouble is most laptops have microscopic speakers so the sound quality won’t be so good. You can always listen to it through a set of headphones or earphones but if you’re serious about sound quality then you might want to think about installing some proper speakers in the garden then you’ll be able to pipe music through from the hi-fi system as well.

 

Clearly your regular living room speakers aren’t up to the job in fact they probably wouldn’t survive one rain shower but that’s not a problem. There are plenty of outdoor speakers available, and we don’t mean those huge Tannoy horns you see at fetes and racetracks. Several companies produce specialist weatherproof speakers, including some that look like ordinary garden objects, like rocks or planters. If you want your speakers to be seen as well as heard you can also get classy looking ‘marine’ speakers designed to for use in a harsh salt-water environment on ships and boats that certainly won’t be bothered by anything the British climate has to throw at them.

 

Most outdoor speakers are simply that and need to be connected by cable to your amplifier or audio source but trailing wires can be a problem, especially if the amp is some distance away. There’s no simple alternative to cables, at least not a permanent or weatherproof one, but you can get cordless speakers that will run for an hour or two on a set of batteries, just don’t forget to bring them in at night.

 

Obviously this won’t be a problem if you’ve got a source of mains power in the garden and if it’s not possible to install waterproof sockets or run an extension cord then there are a few other possibilities. How about an eco-friendly solar power system? All it takes is a few photo voltaic (PV) solar panels on the shed roof, a couple of car batteries to store your electricity and a device called an inverter that converts low voltage DC into 240 volt/50Hz mains electricity. A modest setup, capable of powering a small hi system can be put together for £300 to £400.

 

If you want to find out more about generating electricity from renewable sources like the sun, wind and water you really should pay a visit to the Centre for Alternative Technology (C.A.T), perched halfway up a hillside near the town of Machynlleth in Wales, which is brim-full of practical ideas and helpful people; it’s website has more details.

 

Why stop at PC networking and audio? You can enjoy video in the back garden as well. Transporting the TV onto the patio is probably a non-starter, apart from anything else the image on most video devices is washed out in direct or even indirect sunlight, though you could always confine your viewing to the hours of darkness but there are ways around that. If it’s just for your own enjoyment then check out the Olympus Eye Trek video glasses? These contain a pair of TFT LCD screens mounted on a lightweight frame that you wear like a pair of sunglasses. The image it produces is equivalent to watching a 50-inch screen at a distance of 4-metres. Several models are available, including the top of the range FMD-700, which has 16:9 screens optimised for DVD playback. Olympus also produces a wireless sender kit with a range of up to 100metres. Other AV senders are available, that would also work with the Eye-Trek, or indeed any other video display device or audio system but on most of them the receivers are mains powered.

 

There’s nothing to beat a warm summer evening in the garden but what happens when the sun goes down? Garden lighting is now big business with scores of products available from your local garden and DIY centres. There’s a huge range of products on the market, from mock Victorian street lamps to automatic flood lights, most of them mains-powered, and controllable from your home security system so they need to be installed by a qualified electrician but if that’s a problem then there are lots of solar-powered models available. These have a small solar panel on the top which charges up a set of internal batteries during the day, when the light level falls below a pre-set limit the light comes on automatically. They’re not as bright as their mains-powered cousins but they’re handy for illuminating paths, driveways and the edges of garden features like ponds, and they’re virtually maintenance free.

 

If you’re of a green-fingered disposition there’s more opportunities for automation. Aside from relieving you of the chore of running out the hose pipe or sprinkler every few days they will ensure that your treasured plants get their regular dousing when you are away, on holiday or just feeling lazy. Most systems are fairly simple and use electronic timers activating motorised valves at pre-set intervals but if you are up for a challenge there’s the possibility of tying it into a computer controlled system. This would be able to respond to changes in temperature and rainfall etc., to ensure the plants get the correct amount of water. There’s a good selection of PC-based weather monitoring and automated watering systems on the net, inevitably much it from the US but if you are determined there’s no reason why they cannot be adapted for UK operation.

 

Staying with water-related matters, if you’ve got the space and a healthy bank balance then the ultimate garden luxury has to be a swimming pool and again there’s plenty of scope for gadget fans to indulge themselves. The obvious applications for technology are a pool’s heating and filtration systems and this is another good excuse to set up a wireless network. A range of devices, from motorised valves and thermostats to pumps and chemical sensors and lighting systems are available that can be connected, via standard networking links, to a PC running specialised management software, or integrated with your home automation and security systems.

 

Talking of security, gardens are notoriously vulnerable to the attentions of the light-fingered members of our community and vast amounts of equipment are stolen from gardens, sheds and garages every year. In short if it’s not nailed or locked up down someone is going to pinch it, and that includes things like mowers, tools, ornaments and even shrubs and plants.

 

Protect your perimeters, identify weak spots, where a determined intruder could gain access and block them off with walls, fences or spiky bushes and illuminate dark corners with security lights. Sheds and garages are often chock-full of useful housebreaking implements like ladders and tools, so you should fit good strong locks and padlocks to points of entry like windows and doors. If you already have a burglar alarm or home security system you should definitely extend its coverage to include outbuildings with suitable sensors and automatic security lights.

 

Your garden should be somewhere you can relax and unwind, but if your idea of relaxation is tinkering with gadgets then you could be in for an interesting summer!  

 

BOX COPY 1 – ESSENTIAL EXTRAS

 

For around £100 your local hobby or model shop can equip you with a realistic scale model radio control tank with and ‘airsoft’ BB pellet firing guns. Get a couple of them and re-enact your favourite armoured battles in the comfort of your back yard.

 

There’s nothing worse than warm beer on a hot day but with a compact portable refrigerator parked next to your deckchair you can keep your tinnys cool and avoid the long trek to the kitchen. Prices from £40 to £70, check your nearest gadget emporium.

 

Water pistol technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in the past few years. Battery powered models that can squirt a powerful (and painful) jet of water over several metres are available from your toy and gadget shops. Get a really big one to deter cats or get two and have a good old-fashioned water fight.

 

There’s nothing like a swarm of flies and midges to spoil a good barbie so fry the little critters with one of those electric bug zappers and listen to them sizzle. Available from most good garden centres for around £25 to £30.

 

Can’t afford a swimming pool? Don’t worry; there are plenty of self-install ‘above-ground’ pools to suit all sizes of garden. They can be erected in a couple of hours and the fancier models come complete with pumps and filters systems so you can use them throughout the summer

 

 

BOX COPY 2 – COMING SOON?

 

Gazing into the Future Home crystal ball, and basing our predictions on existing technologies we’ve come up with a wish list of garden gadgets we’d like to see…

 

Robot lawn mower

Yes, we know they exist but the one’s we’ve seen so far are mostly feeble little things that can only cope with flat manicured lawns. What we want is one that can deal with foot high grass and weeds on uneven ground and banks, run for more than ten minutes and plug itself in when it needs charging and most important of all, automatically empty the cuttings in the compost bin.

 

Robot Gardner

Now that scientists have cracked the problem of building bipedal walking robots it surely can’t be long before someone finds something useful to do with one, like teaching it how to dig, plant and prune and all the other tiresome jobs that waste good drinking/sun-soaking time?

 

Comfy Garden Furniture

It surely can’t be beyond the wit of man to design garden furniture that doesn’t require half an hour to assemble or erect and is actually comfortable to sit on. We envisage a weather-proof ‘Lazy Boy’ type recliner, with motorised posture adjustments, built-in speakers, a cool box, a wireless access point for a laptop or organiser and controls for the garden AV system, and it should be small and light enough to pack into the boot of a car for day’s out.

 

Garden-Friendly Laptops and Organisers

Most portable computers are woefully equipped for a life outdoors, what we need are super bright displays that can be read in direct sunlight, batteries that won’t give out after an hour or so, tough ‘bouncy’ and waterproof cases and a built-in cup holder that doesn’t keep sliding into the case.

 

USEFUL CONTACTS

 

OUTDOOR AND MARINE SPEAKERS

www.rockusticsinc.com/

www.sonance.com/outdoor/outdoor.htm

www.cyberselect.co.uk/HiddenSpeakers/index.html

 

SOLAR/ALTERNATIVE POWER

www.cat.org.uk/

www.bullnet.co.uk/shops/test/solar.htm

www.maplin.co.uk

 

VIDEO GADGETS

www.eye-trek.com/welcome_e.html

 

SWIMMING POOLS

www.swimmingpoolsetc.com/alink-pc.htm

www.swimmingpoolsetc.com/ser-adpt.htm

www.sbcontrol.com/

 

AUTOMATED WATERING SYSTEMS

http://www.hozelock.com/UK/Watering/I022.htm

 

WEATHER MONITORING

www.windmill.co.uk/monitor23.html

www.oregonscientific-at-psmall.com/wmr968.html

www.weathershop.com/lcm_WS2310.htm

www.lacrossetechnology.com/

http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/rciautomation/p6.htm

 

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Ó R. Maybury 2003, 0705

 

 

 

PIX

Hozelock automatic watering  -- http://www.hozelock.com/pressoffice/

Oregon Scientific weather station – JPEGs on way

Unlimited Power solar panels – emailed

Aqualink Swimming pools – emailed

Lacrosse weather station – emailed

Sonance rock speakers – emailed

Rockustic speakers – emailed

 

I also have BB firing tank if you want me to take a pic…

 

 

 

 


 

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