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IRRIGATION CONTROLLER WITH
REMOVABLE STATION MODULES
CROSS REFERENCE TO RELATED
The present application is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 10/198,849, filed Jul. 19, 2002; now U.S. Pat. No. 6,772,050; which is a continuation of U.S. patent application Ser. No. 09/400,031, filed Sep. 21, 1999, now U.S. Pat. No. 6,459,959; which is a continuation of Ser. No. 08/904,125, tiled Jul. 28, 1997, now U.S. Pat. No. 5,956,248; which is a continuation of Ser. No. 08/312,268, filed Sep. 23, 1994, now abandoned. 15
This invention relates to an irrigation controller for controlling the operation of an irrigation system pursuant to a 20 watering schedule that may be programmed by the user. More particularly, this invention relates to an irrigation controller for controlling multiple irrigation stations.
BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION 25
Irrigation controllers are known for controlling the operation of an irrigation system in accordance with the passage of time. Most controllers operate a plurality of watering ^ stations and will retain or store a watering program established by the user. This program typically allows the user to pick what days the sprinklers will operate, what time of day that irrigation will begin, and how long each station will operate. Some controllers allow multiple watering programs to be stored.
U.S. Pat. No. 5,262,936 discloses a microprocessor based controller in which the controller base unit has drivers and switches for controlling some number of irrigation stations that is less than the maximum number that can be controlled. The station handling ability of the controller can be expanded by plugging in additional modules with each module having drivers and switches for an additional number of stations. The modules when connected extend and are part of a serial bus structure in the controller. The modules 45 known in this prior controller are quite large and when connected to the base unit of the controller take up considerable space exteriorly of the base unit, leading to problems in finding sufficient space to receive them all and in attaching all of the modules in a secure fashion. 50
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
This invention relates to an irrigation controller which comprises a housing having microprocessor means for stor- 55 ing and executing a watering program for controlling a plurality of irrigation stations. The microprocessor means includes a parallel output bus within the housing having a plurality of separate station output pins for controlling the irrigation stations with one station output pin used for 60 controlling each station. At least one module is removably plugged into at least one of the station output pins on the output bus. The module has a terminal suited for receiving an electrical lead wire extending to the irrigation station, and further has driver and switch means for activating the station 65 as commanded by the base unit over the at least one station output pin.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
This invention will be described in more detail in the following Detailed Description, taken in conjunction with the following drawings, in which like reference numerals refer to like elements throughout.
FIG. 1 is a front elevational view of an improved irrigation controller according to this invention, particularly illustrating the controller housing and front panel with its associated controls and displays and having a portion of the controller broken away to illustrate one of the removable station modules installed inside the controller housing;
FIG. 2 is a side elevational view of the controller shown in FIG. 1, particularly illustrating the controller housing and its attachment to a mounting bracket on which the controller housing is removably installed;
FIG. 3 is a top plan view of the controller shown in FIG. 1, particularly illustrating the controller housing and its mounting bracket;
FIG. 4 is a bottom plan view of the controller shown in FIG. 1 with the controller housing in place on its mounting bracket;
FIG. 5 is an exploded, rear elevational view of the controller shown in FIG. 1, particularly illustrating the controller housing detached from the mounting bracket and the pocket provided on the back of the controller housing for holding a use manual for the controller;
FIG. 6 is an enlarged front elevational view of one of the station modules of the controller with the module shown installed in the controller of FIG. 1;
FIG. 7 is a cross-sectional view taken along lines 7—7 of FIG. 6, particularly illustrating how the station module is installed in the controller of FIG. 1;
FIG. 8 is a partial front elevational view of the controller shown in FIG. 1, with the terminal strip cover being removed to show two station modules for controlling four irrigation stations and the rain sensor, 24 V AC and pump and common outputs contained on the terminal strip; and
FIG. 9 is a schematic diagram of one of the station modules used in the controller of FIG. 1.
This invention relates to an irrigation controller 2 for controlling the operation of an irrigation system in a timed manner. More specifically, controller 2 allows the user to select or input at least one watering program comprising the following parameters of irrigation system operation:
which days the sprinklers will operate in a particular 7 day window (i.e. a calendar sequence) or the interval between successive operational days up to a maximum interval of 7 days (i.e. an interval sequence), the operational days being known as "active days"; when the sprinklers come on during the active days, known as the "start times", with up to four start times being selectable; and how long the sprinklers will run after each start, known as
the "run times". Controller 2 is adapted to control a plurality of separate watering "stations" in the irrigation system. Each station comprises one or more sprinklers grouped together to operate simultaneously off the same irrigation valve V. Each irrigation valve V includes an actuator, such as an electrical solenoid S, which is operated by a control signal from controller 2 to turn valve V on.
Controller 2 of this invention can be easily adapted to control different numbers of stations up to a total of eight
stations. A four station controller 2 is illustrated in this application. Referring to FIG. 8, the four stations are illustrated by the four separate irrigation valves VI, V2, V3 and V4 wired to controller 2. There will be six irrigation valves VI-V6 wired to controller 2 in a six station controller, eight 5 valves VI-V8 in an eight station controller, and so on. While eight is the maximum number of stations that can be controlled by controller 2 shown herein, the maximum number of stations can obviously be adjusted to a larger number if so desired. 10
For each watering program stored in controller 2, a run time may be set individually for each separate station, i.e. different stations may have different run times depending on operator preference. However, the selections of active days and start times apply to all stations as a group within each 15 watering program. Thus, when an active day and start time is reached when executing a particular watering program, controller 2 will operate the irrigation system by sequencing through the stations and operating each station for the run time which has been set for that station on that particular 20 program. Sequential operation of the stations is preferred to decrease the demands on the water delivery capacity of the irrigation system.
Controller 2 incorporates a microprocessor (not shown) of any suitable design which comprises a timing, memory, 25 logic and control means. The microprocessor monitors the passage of time and executes whatever watering program has been input and selected by the user for execution. Operational flexibility is achieved by allowing controller 2 to store and execute multiple watering programs so that a 30 different combination of active days, start times, and run times can be stored in different programs if so desired. The microprocessor can also permanently store a default watering program for use if the user fails to input a customized watering program or programs of the user's own design. 35
Typical irrigation controllers based on the use of microprocessors are disclosed in U.S. Pat. Nos. 5,262,936 and 5,272,620, owned by the assignee of this application. These patents are hereby incorporated by reference.
Referring to FIG. 1, the electronic components of con- 40 troller 2, including the microprocessor, are contained within a housing 4 of any suitable design. As will be described in more detail hereafter, housing 4 may be mounted on a wall 5 using a mounting bracket 6. Housing 4 includes a front panel 8 having various operational controls which may be 45 manipulated by the user to activate control functions of controller 2 or to input information into controller 2. In addition, controller 2 includes a display device 10 for displaying information to the user.
The operational controls of controller 2 include a rotary 50 knob or dial 12 for selecting various ones of the programmable parameters that can be input and stored in a watering program, and various push button controls identified generally as 14. Push button controls 14 include "up/down" or "plus/minus" keys 14a, 14b for incrementing or decrement- 55 ing the value of a particular parameter when programming the controller, an "enter" key 14c for accepting a particular value of a parameter and for proceeding to the next step in the programming sequence, and an "escape" key 14d to start over during programming. Thus, by rotating dial 12 to a 60 particular position corresponding to a particular parameter that can be input, the user can then manipulate controls 14 to input and store values for the selected parameter while observing in display device 10 the values as they are being input for that parameter through the operation of controls 14. 65
The type of watering program stored in controller 2, namely the number and nature of the parameters that can be
set and stored in a watering program and then executed by controller 2, can obviously be varied. In addition, the nature of the operational controls 12,14 used to input the watering program or access the features of controller 2 can also obviously be changed. This invention relates to other features of controller 2, to be described in detail hereafter, that can be used generally on any irrigation controller that controls a plurality of stations, without being limited to controller 2 as shown herein.
A lower portion of controller 2 houses an input/output terminal area, identified generally as 16, behind an easily removable access strip or panel 18. Panel 18 is configured to snap onto and off of controller housing 4 using known tab and slot connections. Terminal area 16 includes space for three, terminal blocks 20a, 20b, and 20c which are hardwired into place. In addition, terminal area 16 includes space for up to four, two-station modules 22a, 22b, etc. that are used to connect controller 2 to the irrigation stations comprising valves V. Station modules 22 are generally identical to one another and are easily removable from controller 2—modules 22 simply plug into controller 2 and can be easily unplugged from controller 2 in a manner to be described shortly,
Terminal blocks 20 and station modules 22 each have two snap-in wire terminals 24a, 24b therein for receiving two connecting wires. Such terminals are well known in the electrical connection art. They each have a pivotal lever 26 that may be rotated 90° from an open position (where lever 26 is vertical and the wire may be inserted into the terminal) to a generally closed position (where lever 26 is horizontal and the wire is clamped or retained in the terminal). The use of such snap-in wire terminals is preferred as it eases the task of connecting the necessary wires to controller 2. Other quick coupling devices could be used, or conventional screw type terminals could be used, in place of snap-in terminals 24a, 24b.
The nature of the wires that are connected to the various terminal blocks 20 and station modules 22 will vary. For example, the first terminal block 20a connects to the two lead wires of a rain switch (not shown) which determines if it is raining and allows controller 2 to cease operation in the case of rain. A typical rain switch of the type which may be connected to terminal block 20a is described in U.S. Pat. No. 5,101,083, which is hereby incorporated by reference. An on/off switch 28 can be mounted in terminal area 16 immediately above terminal block 20a for the rain switch. In the off position of switch 28, the rain switch input is ignored by controller 2 such that the detection of rain will not affect the operation of controller 2 or the irrigation system.
The second terminal block 20b is used for the convenient connection of an external electrical transformer 30 used to provide AC power to controller 2. Transformer 30 will be wired or plugged into a standard AC power source such as 120V AC power, and will provide 24V AC power to controller 2. Ultimately, such 24V AC power will be used to activate solenoids S on irrigation valves V. Additionally, such power can be routed through one of the terminals in terminal block 20c to activate a solenoid S on a master valve or a relay on an irrigation pump. This is required in irrigation systems where a source of pressurized water is not continually present upstream of valves V, but is provided only when irrigation is to take place. In this event, either a master valve supplying valves V must first be opened, or a pump started, to ensure supply of pressurized water to valves V.
The third terminal block 20c as noted above uses one of the snap-in terminals, namely terminal 24a, as a master valve or pump relay, output for supplying 24V AC power