MACNA 2019 Coverage: Hydros from CoralVue

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As always, there were quite a few surprises for us during the MACNA show.

One that caught my attention the most and took me by surprise was CoralVue’s new controller, Hydros.  Wait. Not Hydros Wave Engine?

Here is little background story: 

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This year during Reef A Palooza Orlando, CoralVue showed off a prototype wave maker controller which out of the box supported big name brands such as Maxspect Gyres, Octo Pulse, Ice cap gyres, Abyzz, Ecotech Vortechs, and Tunze powerheads and return pumps. I’m sure that I wasn’t the only one that was excited about its huge potential to add many more wave makers that are commonly used in the hobby, eliminating many unnecessary wires and power bricks for that clean install look while providing users with flexibility and a huge spectrum of control in sync, anti sync control as well as numerous flow patterns using different combinations of wave makers.

Here is my coverage on it during RAP Orlando.  Learn everything about it with my interview of Carlos of CVTV.

Reef A Palooza Orlando 2019 Product Spotlight : Hydros Wave Engine

During Reef A Palooza Orlando, one new product that certainly stood out to me was CoralVue ‘s Hydros WaveEngine. By now, everyone know (should know) that water flow is extremely important and I feel that this is extremely useful invention that can be useful to anyone and everyone in the hobby.

Fast forward three months.

I am on the show floor of MACNA and talking to the owner and friends at coralvue when something catches my eye, making me do a double-take. The guys at the booth know why I did this and are smiling. They transformed this wave maker controller into a full blown controller!! In 3 short months, this ‘wave engine’ company has evolved into an full controller company. Yeah, I was very surprised at this fact as well!  I got together with my friends at CoralVue to find out more about this controller for you guys.

Richard:

Can you tell me a little bit about CoralVue’s new HYDROS aquarium controllers?

Jeff:

First, let me tell you a little about HYDROS, which is a new line of smart aquarium products by CoralVue.

Every HYDROS device can be used by itself—or together with other HYDROS products as part of a larger system. The way we achieve this is, rather than having a central brain, the HYDROS platform is distributed across devices. Every HYDROS product is equipped with its own 32-bit processor which allows scheduling capabilities and control decisions to be made by each device. HYDROS products are engineered, assembled, and supported in the USA. They are built by CoralVue. They are not something we import from another country and put our name on.

Jeremy:

Now, to the controllers. There are two: Control 2 and Control 4.

The Control 2 is $199.99 and comes with a temperature sensor and a WiFi controllable 4-outlet power strip. The power strip also has 4 USB ports that can be controlled as a single outlet to turn on and off fans, for example. The Control 2 has two universal sensor ports, which we call Sense Ports, for things like temperature sensors, optical sensors, level sensors, leak detectors, flow rate sensors, and magnetic or push-button switches. There are two Drive Ports, which can control and provide 12V DC power to auto top-off pumps, fans, cabinet lights, and solenoids. There are also two HYDROS Command Bus Ports that allow HYDROS devices to be connected to each other.

The larger and more powerful Control 4 has all the capabilities of the Control 2 plus additional ports to monitor, control, and power equipment. There are four Sense Ports, two Drive Ports, two Probe Ports (ph/ORP), two 0-10v Ports (one in, one out), and two HYDROS Command Bus Ports. The Control 4 comes with a temperature sensor and Power 4 WiFi Power Strip. You also get a pH probe and a single WiFi Smart Plug that measures the current and wattage being consumed (perfect for a heater).

Jeff:

A lot of hobbyists have asked us about the rugged-looking enclosures we are using for the Control 2, Control 4, and WaveEngine (our universal pump controller). These boxes are IP65 rated, meaning they are dust-tight and protected against corrosive salt spray. We are building HYDROS devices to function inside the harsh environment of a saltwater aquarium stand. Take a look around. You won’t find anybody else in the hobby doing this.

Richard:

Usually, companies release the main product first, then add-ons or secondary units afterward. Was there any reason that you guys released it in the order that you did? 

Jeff:

The thing about HYDROS is that there isn’t a “main product.” You don’t need a HYDROS aquarium controller to use the WaveEngine. You don’t need a HYDROS controller to use future products we release. You can buy a HYDROS WaveEngine to control EcoTech Marine, Tunze, and Jebao pumps from a single app if that’s all you want to do.

Later on, if you want to automate more stuff, you could add a HYDROS controller. You could plug the controller into the WaveEngine so they can communicate with each other. The WaveEngine can even power the controller! You won’t have to download or learn a new app, you use the same HYDROS app. The only difference will be more features are unlocked.

It may be hard to visualize this now since we’ve only announced a few products, so let’s frame this another way. Let’s imagine another aquarium controller company. They have all these cool products, but the only way to use them is by buying “the brain.” Our approach is you can use these cool products by themselves—without a central brain—because they all have a brain. With HYDROS, you can add a piece at a time according to your needs and budget today. You don’t have to invest in a “full version” with functionality you won’t use today because you’re scared you might want it tomorrow.

Jeremy:

A HYDROS automation system consists of as many—or as few—devices as you need. From a single HYDROS Control 2 to a massive system with multiple HYDROS Control 4 units, WaveEngines, and future HYDROS products.

Richard:

Was this always part of the plan from CoralVue or something that you guys saw the need in the market that you guys decided to fill? 

Jeff:

We saw a need in the market for a more affordable, easier-to-use aquarium controller. Some of our team members have purchased aquarium controllers from other brands. Our IT guy ends up having to set them up because they just aren’t that user-friendly.

We aren’t expecting hobbyists to learn a new programming language. If you know how to use a smartphone or a tablet, then you can control and monitor your aquarium with the HYDROS app. You adjust settings by swiping on your mobile device—just like you do hundreds of times a day already. There is zero coding involved. There is nothing complicated about our user interface. It’s going to feel very familiar to you.

If you want to pay $800 for an aquarium controller, more power to you. But most hobbyists don’t want to pay that much.

Some of the most popular auto top-off systems on the market today cost $199.99. For $199.99, our Control 2 can be your auto top-off system. You can plug a dual optical sensor into one of the Sense Ports and plug an ATO pump into one of the Drive Ports. You’d still have another Sense Port to plug in a leak detector, flow rate sensor, temperature sensor, or any other sensor. You’d have another Drive Port to power small lights, motors, and other accessories. With the included Power 4 WiFi Power Strip, you can automatically turn lights off and fans on if the tank temperature gets too hot. You could add a push-button switch to turn off pumps and start a feed mode. If something goes wrong while you’re away from home, you’ll be notified on your mobile device so you can take corrective action remotely.

Auto top-off systems are a staple of saltwater aquarium keeping nowadays. Most hobbyists can afford to purchase themselves a quality auto top-off system. For the same amount of money, why limit yourself to only controlling the water level in your tank? There is so much more you can do! Our slogan is “Aquarium Automation for Everyone,” and we really mean it.

Richard:

This form factor was really familiar to me. I am sure it will be to others as smart home appliance controllers. Does this work in a similar concept? It doesn’t seem to have a main brain console like you see with regular units. Is this solely cloud-based and independently run by parts? 

Don:

The cloud is there to monitor and configure the devices and to allow you to interact with them from anywhere in the world. But the cloud is not necessary to use the system. It runs just fine without any external connection and you can configure it using just your local WiFi if you want to. The HYDROS devices all have their own brain and can run themselves or they can cooperate as a group.

Richard:

I was really surprised by the price point of both controllers and all the accessories. I am thinking that it will benefit a lot of new hobbyists and people that are on the fence about a controller due to the price point factor. Tell me what will be available, their price points, and their functionalities, please.

Jeff:

The Control 4 is $399.99. It includes a temperature sensor, pH sensor, Power 4 WiFi Power Strip, and a Smart Plug WiFi Outlet. It is a great option as a standalone controller for a reef aquarium or as part of a larger HYDROS system.

The Control 2 is $199.99. It includes a temperature sensor and a Power 4 WiFi Power Strip. It’s a perfect standalone controller for basic saltwater or freshwater tank. You can also use the Control 2 as one part of a larger HYDROS system. For example, you can use it to control an auto top-off or auto water change system.

Remember, all HYDROS devices can be used separately or together. You can use a Control 4 and a Control 2 together. You can use multiple Control 4 units. You can use a WaveEngine with the Control 2 or Control 4. It’s however you want to do it.

Don:

HYDROS does not assume you have one aquarium, either. You can use HYDROS to develop a distributed system to manage multiple aquariums. Suppose you have a reverse osmosis filter and some barrels in your garage. Add a HYDROS Control 2 to manage and report water levels for you.

Richard:

You guys were mentioning the quality of the pH probe that will be provided with this unit. Can you elaborate on that and let us know what can we expect from it, and how it is different from the ones that already exist in the market?

Don:

It isn’t the probe itself that is different, we use the same type of probes as everyone else. It is the electronics that connect to the probe inside the Control 4 that is different. The design of the circuitry is very advanced and the technical details are beyond the scope of a discussion like this. But the result will be a stable and repeatable reading that is much more immune to noise and other issues that normally plague these probes.

The circuitry used there is remarkable in several ways. Of course it is fully galvanically isolated, but we have used a technique called “Digital Galvanic Isolation” to overcome some of the issues introduced by normal Galvanic Isolation. But there are also other things that are different, ultra low input bias current, very high common mode rejection, analog filtering, etc.

We have written a white paper on this subject that will be available in a few days. I will send you that, but I have to warn you that it is pretty technical.

Richard:

What can it do and what can’t it do?

Jeff:

Track temperature, pH, ORP, water level, flow, leaks, outlets and more. Control pumps, timers, level sensors, dosers, fans, solenoids, switches, cabinet lighting, and whatever else you dream up.

You can use the 0/10V ports on the Control 4 to control and receive commands from other HYDROS devices and accessories from other brands. These ports can control variable speed pumps and can also be used to monitor switch closures, like push buttons or float switches.

Jeremy:

You can monitor your water parameters and control equipment from anywhere using the HYDROS app. Get mobile alerts the instant something goes wrong so you can take corrective action remotely. You can set rules to turn on and off equipment automatically based on real-time data and create schedules to perform tasks throughout the day. You can monitor voltages, currents, CPU status, and the internal temperature of each device.

Don:

What can’t HYDROS do? There are a lot of things it can’t do yet, but there is very little it can’t do in the future. As a simple example, we are speaking to some guys who do maintenance on lots of systems. They are requesting an interface that will allow them to monitor all of their customers in one view on a screen. We don’t have that yet, but we will. The design of our platform allows things like this to be easily added in the future.

Jeff:

HYDROS is the first aquarium control system designed to thrive in the wet and salty environment of a reef aquarium.  The HYDROS Control 2, Control 4, and WaveEngine are all sealed inside watertight cases with industrial splash-proof connectors for safe and long-lasting operation. The enclosures can get wet without affecting operation and the connectors are rugged, color-coded and screw on securely. These types of connectors are used on aircraft worldwide and are proven to be tough and reliable.

Don:

Critical portions of the HYDROS system can be duplicated to ensure that, in the event of a probe or sensor failure, an alternative probe or sensor is available to automatically replace it. Configuring a system to be Fault-Tolerant adds cost and complexity, but it can also be a factor that saves thousands of dollars of delicate corals in the event of a failure. HYDROS devices can also be connected to a battery backup and will run in a low-current mode while under battery operation.

Richard:

I really loved the smooth and animating GUI at the show. Is this something that will be available for both Android, Apple, and PC/MAC users? 

Don:

We currently support Android and iOS. A web based interface for desktop users is under consideration but not currently in development.

Richard:

I saw that it said “no more modules” in the press release. Do you think will that hinder the growth of this system? What kind of future updates can we expect from this controller ecosystem? Any hints on what you guys are working on?

Don:

You need to understand what we mean by no more modules. Some systems currently on the market need modules for almost everything. If you want a leak detector, you need a module. If you want a flow rate sensor, you need a module. If you want to … — You get the idea. We developed our Sense Port specifically to avoid that. Nearly any sensor you can imagine can plug into any Sense Port. We have temperature probes, rope leak detectors, point leak detectors, flow rate sensors, sump level sensors, skimmer level sensors and more still coming.

However, we also realize that there will be things that can’t be accommodated with a Sense Port.  So suppose next year somebody invents a marine neutrino detector that magically lets you read your fishes minds. It probably won’t plug into a Sense Port. When something like that happens, we will develop a HYDROS device to accommodate it. But it won’t be a dumb module, it will be a full-fledged HYDROS device with its own brain and the ability to talk to other HYDROS devices.

Jeff:

We are tired off the birdsnest of cables in and around our aquarium stands. Aren’t you? It’s downright dangerous. We want you to have control without all the clutter.

In terms of what’s next, there are a lot of things on our product roadmap in various stages of development. I think Carlos from our team already mentioned on a podcast or livestream that we are exploring a new type of salinity measurement device. We are working on better types of sensors. There are technologies from other industries we’ll be introducing to the aquarium hobby for the first time. We are also engineering smarter, higher-quality versions of equipment we all know and use, but with better materials and some clever “Why didn’t I think of that?” twists. Plus, every product we release you’ll be able to use on its own or with other HYDROS devices. The atmosphere at CoralVue right now is that anything is possible!

Richard:

When should we expect to see this?

Jeff:

The Control 2, Control 4, Power 4, and Smart Plug will be released in the spring of 2020.

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Afishionado : a person who likes, knows about, and appreciates a usually fervently pursued interest or activity. (In this case, fish, corals and reef keeping). We are group of passionate hobbyists who are all about educating, creating innovative contents and providing eye popping visuals for hobbyists of all levels.

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