Easier way to adjust watering levels


#1

I read through your “eating your own dog food” thread that explained the convoluded process you used to tweak your watering schedule. It takes a degree in botany to know how changing various parameters will affect the watering schedule, something that is miles above the average Rachio user’s head.

My suggestion is to create two painfully simple sliders on the home screen that will let the average Joe make the same adjustments without having understand crop evapotranspiration formulas or create custom nozzles.

Slider one: “More Water / Less Water”
Slider two: “Deeper and less frequent / Shallower and more frequent”

Slider one is the same as the existing “watering time” adjustment, but it is a more intuitive graphical representation moved to the front page, instead of buried under three clicks.

Slider two could be implemented by adding a user input variable to the evapotranspiration formula. I don’t really understand the formula, but adding a custom multiplier like 1.05 or 0.95 somewhere to the formula could do the same thing as adjusting crop coefficients or whatever else users currently need to do to customize their watering duration and frequency.

For implementation, have “property” sliders on the home screen that adjust all schedules. Then have “zone” specific sliders to fine tune each zone under that zone’s settings. For the evapotranspiration calculation, simply combine the user input variables (property + zone) into a single multiplier. (or maybe it works better to multiply, property*zone, either should be effective)

With Rachio targeting the mainstream, it needs to be a lot simplier. Professionals, hobbyist, and early adopters take the time to research, read forums, and understand their devices. But the average Home Depot customer wants be able to use his device without having to read a manual. Two intuitive sliders would go a long way to simplifying the manual adjustment process.

Jani


#2

@jziedins Note that the “eating your own dog food” thread is posted in the Flexible Daily schedule part of the forum. The Flexible Daily schedule is specifically intended for those that want to dive in, like the professionals and hobbyists that you mentioned. They don’t mind and even enjoy the process of learning the details, and have the time for it. The simplified operation that you suggest is provided by some of the other schedules that are provided, such as the Fixed Interval & Fixed Days. Even the Flexible Monthly requires less in depth knowledge.

I see how your suggestion of simplifying the Flexible Daily schedule by the added sliders would conceptually make it easier for someone not desiring to dive into the details, but I fear that the simplification would actually create more issues than leaving it as is. First, it would give a false sense of having things ‘dialed in’. A user might set it and forget it, say in the spring in mild 65 degree temps and a fair amount of rain, based on data that is not grounded in the foundation of the algorithm. Later as climate conditions change the algorithm makes adjustments, but it might be doing so assuming roots that are 10" deep when yours are really 4" deep, or it based on clay soil that retains more water than sandy loam. Temps increase to the 100s and now things aren’t getting watered as frequently as they would be if you had set the right soil type and root depth in the spring, instead of making the slider adjustment. You go on vacation and come back to an unhappy situation of wilted vegetation and a brown lawn.

Flex Daily is powerful, but needs some investment of time. If you don’t have that time the other schedules will work just fine, and are a great improvement from a dumb controller! I still remember how happy I was to toss my Hunter box and now have even my Fixed Schedules that I could manage from my PC or phone, and turn on zones in the back yard without having to run to the front of the house to turn knobs for A, B, C and 1, 2, 3, 4, not even being sure of the combination that I needed. Although I started with Fixed Interval for a couple of months I moved to Fixed Monthly as I had time. When I was comfortable there but wanted more, and was willing to put in the extra time and research, I moved to Flex Daily.

Having said all of this, as you said the water duration adjustment is already there and could be moved if it makes sense to the developers. The interval adjustment is the same as changing the crop coefficient, so I’m guessing that putting it in slider form isn’t a big deal from a software perspective. I’ll leave it to @franz and the Rachio team in general to determine if it creates the false sense of security that I mention above, or has some other gotchas.

Thanks for your comments and taking the time to post them. My intention isn’t to shoot down any of your ideas but am just pointing out potential issues. Welcome to the community and please reach out of you have any questions. The folks on this forum are great at helping out should you need it!


#3

Flexible Daily schedules are the ultimate implementation of a smart sprinkler and is the setting everyone should use. Fixed Intervals and Days are not accomodations for landscaping novices, but there to abide by city watering restrictions.

Hopefully in a few years progressive water departments will exempt people with smart controllers and allow them to water when conditions warrant, not arbitrarily based on their house number. For that to happen, Flexible Daily needs to be accessible to the ignorant masses, not just the educated enthusiasts. It would be a real shame if this mode was exclusive to those that were willing to invest the time necessary to read and learn about it.

As for “creating more issues than leaving as it is”, I view this the opposite way. Monkeying around with parameters to force a desired watering change will create more long-term headaches and ramifications when I forget what I changed. A slider is idiot-proof way undo any changes I made a year from now when my watering needs change.

A Raspberry Pi sprinkler controller can be all geeked out for the hobbyist, but a mainstream product like the Rachio should be simple and intuitive enough that my 70 year old parents can use it to it’s fullest potential. If it’s not easy and intuitive, people will take them back to the store and stick with their old school controllers. Using the Rachio should be magical, not work.


#4

I disagree whole-heartedly here. I think that’s what Fixed Days might specifically be intended for restricted scheduling, but not Fixed Intervals. I set up Fixed Intervals after installing purely because I was a novice and it was easy. I don’t have watering restrictions so that was a non-issue for me.

The problem is the ‘fullest potential’ part. That requires information about your lawn, your plant types, maturity, sprinkler head types, soil, etc. People that live in a tropical, humid environment that has lush plants in a rich soil have vastly different needs than those that I have, so how will the system know that unless it’s told ? Two sliders just don’t tell it everything it needs, to reach it’s fullest potential. Two sliders might tell it enough to reach a happy compromise however.

In our world of growing data repositories I’m guessing that this issue of populating the system with more optimal data will certainly get better, and I’m sure the Rachio team will be all over it. If Rachio had a databank to access that had soil, commonly planted vegetation type, etc. per region, it would be much easier. Even then, it won’t be complete as it doesn’t know your irrigation system, or what you have planted versus your neighbor. I might have a lush desert landscape while my neighbor has xeriscaped his yard. I just changed my sprinkler heads to a low-rate nozzle that puts out water 4 times slower than my older heads, so my water duration increased by 4x when I made the change to the nozzle setting. That info. wouldn’t be available in a database and is user specific. Moisture sensors buried at the depth of the roots would take care of that issue, but that technology isn’t quite mature yet, at least not enough to be reliable. I think some day the industry will get there, but as a whole the industry just isn’t there today.


#5

Personally, I have found Rachio to be magical. I’m not a hobbyist–I love tech, but I really enjoy gardening.

Rachio allows me to keep on top of a property over 400 miles away so that I can be assured that everything is properly watered there. It was originally set up so that my 88-year-old mom wouldn’t have to worry that her prized peonies would wilt or die due to lack of proper watering schedules. I was happy to do that for her and she thought it was “pretty cool” as well as magical.

I use a combination of fixed schedules and flexible daily, but I can change all sorts of parameters to make sure the lawn looks great, but not over-watered, or set a fixed schedule to be sure the tomatoes are consistently watered.

My controllers are in very different climate zones with very different vegetation and watering needs. So far, neither location has any watering restrictions (maybe there should be some to get people’s attention), but I am well aware of just how precious our water resources are.

By not watering when it rains, or not over-watering according to my settings, Rachio helps me be a good steward of that natural resource.


#6

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting throwing out the setup parameters. Nozzle type, sun exposure, slope, grass type, soil type, etc are all critical. But they’re also not comprehensive either. Each location is unique and we need an easy way to tweak the Rachio for our particular yard and situation. A good initial setup gets us close, but the user needs to be able to fine-tune it for their yard too. If we want this device to be accessible to the masses, the user needs to be able to fine-tune it without taking a class in irrigation science.

An analogy would be the modern engineering marvel that is the automotive hybrid powertrain. You’re saying that only a knowledgeable professional should be allowed to adjust engine parameters. I’m saying we should put a “normal/eco/power” switch on the dash so any ignorant driver can easily adjust the engine’s parameters to meet their needs.

If rabbits chew up a corner of my yard and I lay seed, I’d like an easy slider that lets me water that zone more frequently, but for a shorter duration. If one zone is browning, let me easily bump the water time a little. Or if water is running off a slope and into the road, I need to adjust the systems so it waters for less time, but does it more frequently. Maybe I’m cheap and want to keep my lawn two shades above brown. Or maybe I’m proud and want to have the greenest yard in the neighborhood.

Without a doubt I could make all these adjustments by spending hours studying the forums and understanding what each mode and parameter does. Or Rachio could give me a simple slider on the home page. “More Water / Less Water” “Longer watering, less frequently / Shorter watering, more frequently” Which do you think the average Home Depot customer would prefer?

I love the Flexible Daily functionality, but it takes way too much brainpower to make minor adjustments.


#7

@jziedins @azdavidr @sunny

Thanks for the feedback everyone. I do agree we need to obfuscate (abstract?) away even more of the advanced settings as well as ask for zone feedback and magically incorporate this into existing schedules.

It is a tough challenge finding the right balance for our customer base. As our company and software matures, you will see more innovation on how to take a very complex problem and make it more consumable by the community at large.

Please keep these discussions going (making sure they are healthy and respectful :wink: ) to help identify our strong and weak spots for all users.

:cheers:


#8

I see what you’re getting at, especially after your agreement that those initial settings are critical. My fear was directed toward a user that just used the defaults for soil, nozzles and root depth, then just moves to the +/- sliders that you’re suggesting. When I first tried Flex I was one of those users that just used the defaults, and I discovered I was pretty far off! The “normal/eco/power” analogy is a good one.

I would also like to see a guided setup of some sort, like a Q&A walk through with pictures of sprinkler heads choices, drip systems setup examples, etc. The critical component of soil setup would be greatly minimized if the Iro were able to grab data from the Web Soil Survey database behind the scenes, based on the user’s address. I’m not sure what technical or business issues would be involved with that approach, but after months on these forums I could see it going a long way toward making Flex a more out-of-the-box experience.


#9

Agreed–Flex does take a lot of tinkering. I read through the Knowledge Base articles and they were great, but still not sure I have it all set correctly. Fortunately, there are many very knowledgeable users here to answer questions.


#10

@azdavidr is spot on. Flex daily is a very sophisticated model. A slider for more or less water is not possible because the mode needs to understand which variable in the model is over/under compensating. Sorry, it’s just the nature of the beast


#11

A [quote=“plainsane, post:10, topic:5301”]
Flex daily is a very sophisticated model. A slider for more or less water is not possible because the mode needs to understand which variable in the model is over/under compensating. Sorry, it’s just the nature of the beast
[/quote]

You’re missing the point and an analogy might help. A rifle is also a very sophisticated and precise machine. If your rifle is always missing two inches to the right, one option is to take everything apart, inspect, measure, adjust, and reassemble. The other option is to simply aim two inches to the left. Or better yet, add an adjustable sight that compensates for the error. One option is to change the machine. The other is to change the aim point. Rebuilding the rifle is the better way to correct the problem, but changing the aim point is easier, faster, and something most people can do.

If my yard is getting brown, I can pull out my botany reference manual to identify my grass type, take soil samples, measure root depth, and use a rain gauge to test my sprinkler output. Or I could simply bump the water time or frequency. Both techniques do the same thing, add more water, so why not allow users access to the easy way?

This hobbyist group loves diving into the details, but as a company Rachio will be far more successful if they follow Nest’s approach of creating a programmable thermostat that doesn’t need to be programmed. All this technology and potential will be lost if it is buried under complexity that is only understandable by a small group of hobbyists.


#12

this is going to be long, will appear we are talking past each other, but, i dont know how else to describe the problem, you are oversimplifying the number of variables involved.

the solution you provide to aim 2 inches to the left is not an acceptable solution for any marksman, they would adjust the windage on their scope or iron sight wouldnt they? and dont you have to be well versed in shooting THAT specific rifle to know how much of a correction to make? and you do have to make this correction else when shooting at game, first shot is not a kill shot unless you spend too much time remembering which rifle shoots where? now you are tracking an animal through the woods and significantly increased the odds that you just wasted that meat. but lets put that aside and focus on the model for a second.

so think about this for a minute, if you’re yard is turning brown, you want a single slider. should that slider increase watering duration? probably not a good idea if your awc is too low. this means no matter how much water you put down, the rest is going to run off or leach off too quickly to be absorb by the plants and your vegetation is still going to burn.

so lets assume that awc is not the problem, so the slider to add more water has to actually reduce your pr. we are already stepping into an inverse proportion and confusion begins to arise…but lets stick with that for a minute. so slider moves up to increase water, but you are telling your iro that the amount of water being applied is actually less for your system than reality. things appear to work better because the sprinkler stay on for longer and the grass is green. now you realize that the gallons used metric is not even close to your water bill because you told the iro that your irrigation puts out half the water that it really does. no ppl think that screen is a turd because it lies for a certain population of the user base.

BUT, the real problem is that the root zone depth is set incorrect. those 2 options “add more water” but the root problem is that you are watering a soil column that is too big for your vegetation. so now your magic slider needs to decrease the root zone to actually LOWER the amount of water you apply, BUT increase the frequency of the applications.

i could bring up a few other counter intuitive scenarios, but i think this will do for now…

im not trying to sound condescending, but just trying to point out just how difficult resource conservation really is, if there was a magic button, it would exist. in my opinion the next best option is a customer willing to tolerate 2-3 years of stressed turf and let an deep learning algorithm figure it out…


#13

Why do you believe watering grass needs to be an engineering exercise? Time and water are the only outputs and there is no reason it needs to be as difficult as you are making it out to be. No matter what you think is required, the most popular smart sprinkler is going to be the one that is the easiest to use. If Rachio wants to be the market leader, then they need to focus on Apple like simplicity. If they’re going for techno-geeks appeal, make watering grass an engineering exercise. Hopefully the people at Rachio realize 99% of homeowners want a good looking yard, not an education in irrigation science. The smart sprinkler that gives them what they want with the least amount of effort will be the winner.


#14

Have you tried flex monthly or a fixed schedule, I think you might like those


#15

LOL, you must be an engineer. It is super easy to make a complicated product. The hardest thing to do is make a complicated product simple. When someone struggles to use a product correctly, that isn’t a failure of the user, but a failure of the design. The iPhone is one of the most sophisticated devices ever made by man, yet my 3 year old operates it with scary efficiency. So I ask, is there any reason why a sprinkler system should be harder to use than the computer we keep in our pockets?


#16

I don’t think that @plainsane’s suggestion of trying Flex Monthly was so far off. The whole idea of Flex Monthly was to make it easier for people, and it does. They just left the Flex Daily around for those that want it, but nobody is forcing you to use it. I get your suggestion and it’s a good thought to put on the table for future development, but if we’re talking about today what’s your opposition to Flex Monthly, or even Fixed with climate skip? If Flex Daily wasn’t one of your schedule options when you first installed the app would you be happy with the scheduling options?

Apple makes a popular product, but they appeal to the masses by restricting what users can do with their hardware. It is less optimal but more appealing. Android doesn’t have as many restrictions so the platform is more flexible, but not as easy for the 3 year old and grandma. I see Flex Monthly as closer to the Apple methodology and Flex Daily as closer to Android’s.

Again, your initial post to simplify going forward is a good one, and I’m sure that the Rachio guys agree and are listening! I’m especially in agreement with you that the hardest part of engineering is simplification of complex problems! The part I’m wondering about is why you’re averse to trying Flex Monthly? Rachio started with Flex Daily and made Flex Monthly for the exact reasons that you’re arguing, to make it easier to use but still have a lot of power under the hood. It’s a solid scheme and it’s well supported. Why not give it a shot?


#17

Great discussion here, and thanks to Franz for his “dog food” diary.

IMO, the current Flex Daily implementation is close to spot on. For the Iro to work best, we need to dial in both the watering rate and the usage rate. The problem with the slider idea is it affects only one of the variables and as soon as weather conditions change the user has to keep tweaking it (or overwater and never realize it).

It’s been some work (we have a 28-zone system), but it’s been worth it. Getting vegetation, slope, sun and soil type is easy, and every Iro user should take the time to configure each zone. Measuring actual watering rate (and setting up custom heads when needed) is more time consuming, but once you do it you have it forever. With those in hand, I believe the only thing one really needs to change is the crop coefficient to “dial in” their yard.

The basic problem with the slider (and the existing +/- adjuster in Durations) is that they essentially trick the Iro into thinking more/less water is being put down than actual. This becomes a problem when adding actual water from rainfall, as the sums get screwed up. This is why getting actual watering rates is useful – then the amount of water being put down is always correct in the system.

So, if the water is correct, “dialing in” means getting the usage adjusted. In my view, starting with the standard vegetation settings is the way to go. Measuring actual root depth seems to be overkill. In a mixed zone (i.e., shrubs under trees), pick the primary vegetation type with the shallowest depth. And in a newly planted zone, try adjusting the standard by reducing the root depth until it becomes established. From there, if a zone appears underwatered, adjusting the crop coefficient will complete the dialing in procedure.

Because the Iro recalculates the moisture levels every time you make a change to a variable (a great feature, BTW), one way to dial in the crop coefficient is to make small adjustments, save them, look at the moisture levels again and push the water balance to zero on the day before stress appeared in the plants/lawn. Basically, this approach says “since the water input is correct, the water must be being used up more quickly than the current settings indicate”.

This approach has worked great for me, and seems to be working as the temperature swings in NJ from the 60s to the 90s. Still doing a little tweaking when I see a stressed zone, but the changes are becoming smaller and less frequent. And once I have all the zones to the point where they are never underwatered, I’ll probably start making some crop coefficient adjustments (and maybe test greater water depletion) in the other direction to make sure I’m not overwatering anywhere.


#18

Wow! Very well said

Did the the company ever do anything to help you out?


#19

I’m guessing Rachio is still working on this in the v3 Beta. @jziedins has some good points. I’m an engineer who geeks out with the numbers, but I also love it when a problem can be made as simple and elegant as possible.

If I understand things correctly, the variables on the Advanced zone screens aren’t black magic and may ultimately boil down to the sliders @jziedins suggested anyway:

Total Water Applied
Rachio apparently just multiplies Available Water (AW), Root Depth, and Allowed Depletion (AD) to figure out a “bucket” size. If you want to test this, pick one of your zones and read off those values. Then multiply, e.g. AW = 0.2, Root Depth = 5", AD = 40% would yield 0.2 * 0.5 * 0.4 = 0.4". Now take a look at your moisture level details and see how many inches Rachio puts down whenever it fully waters: it should match this value. The Efficiency and Precipitation Rate variables determine how much time you must water to actually get 0.4" out of your particular irrigation system.

Watering Frequency
Rachio does a bunch of math to calculate a “reference ET” based on current weather conditions for a notional plant. Then it takes your entered crop coefficient value and multiplies by this reference ET to come up with inches to take out of the “bucket” for your plant. Given this and the “total water applied” value (e.g. 0.4" above), it will water when 0.4" has gone out of your bucket due to weather.

The variable I haven’t mentioned is Area, but it’s currently used only for water usage calculations.

Now, if we added two fudge factors to fine tune Total Water Applied or Watering Frequency per @jziedins, I don’t think we’d risk distorting things over time. We can increase AW, Root Depth, AD, or “Total Water Applied fudge factor” to increase the size of our “bucket” proportionally, but all roads lead to the same destination. As an engineering geek, I like the Advanced variables. But for someone who doesn’t want to bother with all the theory, “obfuscating/abstracting” (as @franz put it) via the fudge factors @jziedins suggested should be fine.

Side note… In Usability Improvements, @jeremyjhartley suggested Rachio act like a Nest thermostat. Thinking about this more, it might be tricky to get a bead on both total water applied and watering frequency given only a “too dry” or “too wet” input, but may be possible given frequent feedback and some artificial intelligence.


#20

Clearly Rachio is powerful with lots of settings and adjustments to play with.

But is it powerful enough for yard guys ( the mow and blow outfits that everyone around here hires ) to operate ?

They often break turf pop-ups that they need to come on to repair/test.

I am thinking that can be figured out, with zero traing, on the fly.

There has got to be a market need for that type of timer clock.

Am I missing something?