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Lunatico’s Solo Keeps Tabs On the AAG CloudWatcher: Review

The Lunatico AAG CloudWatcher, which I installed recently next to my observatory dome has worked well for monitoring weather (see my review on AGT here).  For autonomous imaging sessions, though, I wanted full-time weather monitoring without having to have the computer in the dome powered-up and connected all the time.

The Solo, also made by Lunatico, acts as a tiny standalone computer that relays CloudWatcher data over a network without the need for a PC.

Hardware

The Solo, which is based on a Raspberry Pi “B”, is a plastic box about the size of a soda can. You simply plug the AAG CloudWatcher cable into the Solo instead of the computer (which required a USB to serial converter). The AAG CloudWatcher is still needed to make the weather measurements, but the Solo makes it a standalone system.

The Solo’s needs are simple –an Ethernet (not wi-fi) network connection and 12VDC power. Power consumption is only 2 Watts, making the CloudWatcher a very good standalone solution for remote observatories. The Solo to be kept indoors as well since it’s not weatherproof.

AAG Solo and its connections. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Data Display

With the Solo connected to your network, it is accessed on a browser by entering its IP address (e.g. 192.168.x.x).

What I like about the Solo is that all the data is displayed on one page in a webpage layout. There are no tabs, menus, or pages to navigate through. 

The values corresponding to current conditions are displayed on the top of the page, updated every minute or so:

  • Temperature
  • Pressure
  • Humidity
  • Dew point
  • Clouds
  • Rain
  • Light
  • Relay Switch (open/close)
Essential data values on top of page. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Graphs

The data is also plotted over time on a 24-hour graph.

The layout is efficient and easy to follow. I also like being able to rearrange the graphs to my liking by clicking the up or down arrows on each graph.

The previous 24-hour graph can be used as the background, if you choose, using a darker, dimmer graph. I fine this to be a useful tool that offers a baseline of sorts to compare to the current weather.

Units are changed from metric (degrees C and KPH) to Imperial (degrees F and MPH) with a single click.

Solo page as displayed on the PC browser with data values and graphs. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Also useful are the limits that shade the background of each graph. In the graph below, my calibrated rain sensor has threshold values shown in different colors, from yellow for dry to blue for rain, so I can see at a glance what the conditions are. The horizontal red line is the threshold I’ve set for when it’s too wet to safely have the dome open.

Close-up of the rain sensor plot. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

I really like the look of the Solo graphs compared to the computer-based interface. For comparison, an example of the relativity basic-looking CloudWatcher PC-based software is shown below. Note the tabs for navigation.

Cloud status graph as displayed on the computer-based AAG CloudWatcher software. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Safety Status

The green lights indicate “Safe” and red lights indicate “Unsafe” conditions for any one of the metrics. Once the levels are set by the user, all the lights need to be green for the overall status of the observatory to be “Safe”. If any one of the conditions turn red, it will regard the conditions as “Unsafe” and the observatory control or ASCOM imaging software will follow the program dictated by the user. 

ASCOM software reads a continuously updated JSON file that is found as a drive on your network.

Status bar is green and says “Safe” when all the lights are green. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri
When a single metric is red (too bright outside in this case), the entire observatory status turns red and says “Unsafe”. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Configuration

Configuration of the Solo is just one page as well. Only the safe/unsafe limits need to be set.

You can enable or disable the switch that give commands to other devices, if needed.

I left the sky temperature values at default since it works detects clouds well at my location. The rain sensor heater setting defaults also work well for me.

Configuration page. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

System Settings

The second and last page of the settings tab are used to set up the network IP addresses, DNS, and so on. Not being very IT savvy, I left network and server settings in auto mode.

Systems settings. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Phone Access and Notifications

Android users can download a widget from the Lunatico website that displays the current weather conditions on your phone. When I went to install it, though, it wasn’t on Google Play but was available only from an external source. Because of that, I chose not to install it on my phone. Instead, I simply access the Solo address with my phone browser (viewable on both Android and IOS), and that layout works well for me.

Solo data on the phone. The display can be zoomed in. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri
Solo data on the phone. The display can be zoomed in. Credit: Rouzbeh Bidshahri

An interesting feature is that the Solo can be set up to send push notifications to your phone or email if the status changes to from Safe to Unsafe. You’ll need to setup either Pushbullet or Pushover on your device for this.

This feature provides extra peace of mind when I’m busy with other things while the observatory is in operation, knowing I’ll get a notification if conditions become unsafe. 

Final Thoughts

I found the Solo to be cost-effective and simple. I no longer have to have my PC on all the time just to monitor the weather conditions.

The layout and display are efficient, with all the essential information in a single page. It’s more aesthetic than the CloudWatcher PC-based software display as well.

The best feature for me is that I can now access weather data via my home network, so I can monitor ambient conditions from any device and get push notifications should conditions change. Lunatico also provides instructions on accessing the Solo from anywhere over the internet but I haven’t tried that. Lunatico provides a PDF describing how to set a static IP address to access the Solo from anywhere on their website.

Plus:
Simple to install and operate
Data access via network
Phone options available, with push notifications
Reasonable cost

Minus:
Phone widget is from an external source, not Google Play

MSRP:  From $225 to $236
Website: Lunaticoastro.com

About Rouzbeh Bidshahri

Rouzbeh Bidshahri is a mechanical engineer with a lifelong passion for astrophotography. He has tested dozens of telescopes ranging from 3 to 20 inches in aperture and has spent several years optimizing systems for very high-resolution planetary imaging in the sub 0.1 arcsecond/pixel range. He has contributed to several institutions such as ALPO (The Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers). His main area of interest has been designing and operating larger setups, and he is currently focusing on high resolution, long exposure photography for both broadband and narrowband deep sky imaging.

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