mitte® tech: ‘It’s a machine with a brain’
Recently the Mitte team achieved a major breakthrough in electronic engineering, when José successfully brought the control system to its alpha-phase. This means that the world’s first home water purification and vitalization system now runs fully automated. Here José describes the process.
Can you describe your work at Mitte?
I have two basic responsibilities. For once, I supply DAQ’s to my co-engineers, which they use for prototyping. DAQ means “Data acquisition” and is a device that can measure any kind of variables depending on what my colleagues need. For example if they want to measure pressure, flow rate, or temperature, this device is the tool for it.
Secondly, my main objective in this company is to create an automated control system for the appliance. We just finished the alpha version, which allows us to control the whole system for the first time, and we are very excited about that.
At this stage the system is still connected to a computer, but our aim is to record, measure, and control all the activity and values inside the machine with a smartphone via WiFi. In order to do this, we have to build a pretty complicated system with a hardware „brain“. This micro controller manages the variables—like I said, pressure, flow rate and temperature—as well as the activators, like volt, heaters, fans: Any kind of mechanical or thermic stuff connecting to the electrical supply.
What kind of technology are you working with?
Our prototyping set-up is based on Arduino hardware. It is an amazing tool, because it is open source and easy to program, which makes it really useful for tech startups.
We are using temperature probes and level sensors based on ultrasonic technology. Right now there are 4 sensors implemented in total. For the alpha version this is sufficient and they are working perfectly. In the next step we will add TDS sensors to measure the concentration of salts and other contaminants in the water, as well as flow and pressure sensors.
Of course, when working with electronics, accidents happen along the way—one time I accidentally fried 3 Arduino boards with a short circuit. But I think that is a crucial point about open source technology like Arduino: Regardless of your experience, when you develop something from scratch it is essential to have affordable hardware available. 20 years ago this technology was way too expensive for young people to start to make good things. But now, any person who has a computer can connect this microcontroller and—with a bit of practice— can create a robot, a car, or a water purification machine… You can get creative in creating your own stuff. This is a great thing for human development.
I also love the possibilities of rapid prototyping and enjoy using new kinds of materials provided by 3D printers. It’s a new thing and we can explore to make really wonderful stuff. Here at Mitte we use 3D printing for some of the parts of our machine, but also to create safe systems for our electronics, since we are working with water—mixing water with electricity, believe me, is not a good idea.
Automated systems are a major focus in your work. How do you see the role of integrated technology in the future?
Industrial automation is a really important field right now. We are approaching a new level, where we are integrating automation with artificial intelligence. This is very exciting because so much incredible stuff can be made. I think that if we use this in a smart way, we can solve a lot of problems and create much more efficient processes in many fields, like farming, which can essentially help save the environment. We could end car accidents if we make cars communicate with each other on the streets. For medical appliance robots are already used for microsurgery, and prosthetics are a highly prolific field as well.
For Mitte’s appliance automation is key to create an intuitive communication with the user: Getting water to drink from the device should not be a complex procedure, therefore the control element will only consist of one button to dispense water. Automating the process makes sense from a usability standpoint, but also for the safety of the machine, because the process is fully monitored and there is no room for misuse.
José studied mechanical engineering with a focus on robotics and automation in his Spanish home town, Seville. He based his career on the aim to create more efficiency to improve the environment, which led him to work on several interesting projects: He has developed a blimp-like drone, that is lighter than air for his thesis, a cloud-recognition software that helps the efficiency of photovoltaic systems, and another drone with a robotic arm that is able to help workers on construction sites by repairing things in great heights. The project he holds most dearly however is a thermometer, which he built in the first year of university. Despite the fact that it is not working at all, he regards it as his „first child“.