I find rachio to be way more complicated than it needs to be

Here is the thing. Those who are passionate on these types of forums will always defend complexity over generalization. I fully expect to be disagreed with.

Yet… Companies that reduce complexities wins the long game and gets loyal customers. the IPhone, the Next and a whole slew of consumer tech like netflix etc spends disproportionate amount of time to reduce complexities for the end-user in exchange for a real pleasant out of the box experience.

Rachio falls pretty short in that regard. I had a rachio in my old house since rachio was pretty new into the market. I had two zones, i setup a monthly schedule, driven largely by time with a bit of weathershift. My tiny little strip of plants around my house did okay. I never bothered with how many inches of water came out of the nozzles, once i had the minutes right i left it to do its thing and it worked well. It still took me a month or more to get right, but it worked. I hooked up a weather sensor and it stopped watering when it rained.

Fast forward to 2020, i have moved into a house with 4 lawns, multizone veggie garden, citrus garden, several rose trees, hedges -its 1 acre of glorious back and front yard. 27 zones in total. It had 3 different timers on it, all but one was seriously old. I got my water bill and being in the SF bay area it was enormous (at least to what i was used to), think like a thousand bucks.

I hired a water auditor/irrigation specialist and he recommended new sprinkler heads, get rid of a bunch of heads for hedges and go drip line instead and we should get the efficiency up. He also recommended a smart controller, and given my experience with rachio i jumped on it and bought two of the rachio 3 16 zone controllers with dedicated rain sensors.

But dang this has been hard to program.
I use daily flexible and my lawn was not happy, yellowing and drying out. I used got a soil tester (basically a probe that cores out a long narrow sample out of the soil) and it showed that the soil was way too dry. The irrigation guy setup the iniital programming and efficiencies, soil types, crop co-efficiencies, efficiences etc and i have no doubt that he knows what he is doing. But he still couldn’t get it right on the first try. And he told me that he finds that it takes a number of weeks to get the rachios fully tuned to a garden. That seems crazy to me, we’re talking about a pretty fundamental math problem with very few variables and from what looks to me an error prone input mechanism with non-obvious effects of the incoming variables.

Is it really supposed to be this hard? Even super simple stuff like entering in nozzle inches per hour could be simplified. I had the model number of the nozzle but the app force me to go an find the data sheet and enter the nozzle inches from there. And those sheets have square and triangular number that differ but if you’re not in the industry which one do you use? From what i gathered home depot and lowes sell something like 90% of the nozzles to consumers in america. Why can’t i just tell rachio the model number and rachio figures what that means in terms of nozzle inches? or if it is variable say “typically this, but you can adjust”? Why force the user to hunt for data, and even more so why do it in such a way that it is error prone -as far as i can tell there is zero sanity checks if the user typed in something wildly wrong. Why not let me select a drip line, and ask in plain english, do you have this type of line or that type of line?

Then lets talk about crop co-efficiencies. I have to assume that 90% of homeowners just don’t want to be bother by that. Even the language is wonky. I’m sure its the scientifically correct language but you’d be pretty pissed if the nest insisted that you give the calirometric data of the air handlers temperature drop over the calculated bends? I mean seriously?

All i really want do do is to enter in “i live in northern california, i have a grass lawn.” The app can say “this is typical for your area, do you want to keep this or overrride?”
I nstead i have to go and try to reverse engineer summer vs. winter grass root depths etc. Seems like this could be so much simplified for the average person who just wants to get things started with sensible defaults.

Here is a couple of fundamental plain english questions i think the app programmer could have asked to populate the initial setting with something that gets it mostly right:
“What do you have? A lawn, roses, hedge, fruit trees, vegetable garden, draught tolerant garden or something else?”. Depending on the type of garden “What types of vegetables do you grow, tomatoes, beans, potatoes, peppers, strawberries etc”. Then depending how that is answered then ask “full sun, partial sun or shade”. And then start getting the settings right with a schedule that makes sense for the most commonly planted gardens.

on the main UI over the next two to three weeks every few days the app can popup a question. “Go to this area of the garden, take a soil sample at this depth. Does the sample look and feel look like this? (show a picture)” If more wet, then adjust the water down. If more dry then adjust the water up. Some plus and minus signs in the UI would go a long way.

This would make the system so much more pragmatic and self adjusting with a human feedback loop. Right now its decoupling the garden from the schedule using abstract algorithmics. I am 100% certain the the algorithmic is correct -but is it user friendly? Does it help make gardeners more successful? Does it save water? Do you even ask what the goal is of the garden and program the settings for that?

The current approach makes no sense at all to me now that i have a larger garden and where the rachio really should be in my corner and make it easier for me. I suggest that you try to transform the abstract experience with co-efficiencies and efficiencies into an experiential engagement where you instruct the gardener how to take samples and with that assess in a natural language guided way to determine if you’re under of over watering assuming no knowledge of water and plant science and instead infer that from natural language and ongoing observations. That’s what nest did for HVAC. you could do the same.

Finally, There are no “what-if” scenarios in rachio’s model. Why not have that? Why not let the feedback to the user be natural language so they give input and rachio responds with “This input means that for this zone rachio should increase the watering frequency or the watering time this way. Do you approve this change?”
Instead of forcing the user type in the changes on co-efficiencies or efficiencies and root depth, head out of the UI, run over to schedules and hit a day to see the new schedule while trying to remember what actually changed. That seems just so non-intuitive and really a somewhat weird experiment of pushing button to try to figure out what may happen.

In my dream scenario Rachio’s app direct me to take series of pictures of the zone and use AI to determine what type of crop it is and determine the initial water schedule that way. Not too dissimilar to how ring lets the user define zones and AI detection of known faces -but for a different purpose.

I’m not saying you should abandon your current system by the way. I think that is great for experts. But for a regular working stiff the current system is much more complicated than it needs to be. You need to design it so that a 9 year old can program it. Once you’ve done that then you’ve won the simplicity game, and to be honest the best designs take exceptionally hard science and make them so simple that a kid can interact with it and be successful is always a disruptor in their industry. Rachio is pretty far away from that but it is within reach. Until you get it to that level you won’t really get most of the marketshare the way truly transformative companies disrupted their industries.

my few cents. And yes, i’m silicon valley type who builds software (and hardware) for a living. I’m a bit biased but i for sure believe in simplicity. Leaders win the simplicity game without become simplistic.

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You are making great points here.
Rachio is at the level where they have narrowed down parameters useful to drive their watering time and schedule engine.
But they do now need to figure out a smart UI to go on top of that to simplify the setup and tuning process.
The level I would work on first would be the tuning process. As you said, assuming all the base parameters have been reasonably set, we should be able to just give feedback to the system and have it tune itself automatically.

But we all know putting intelligence in the UI is the hardest job of all, It is the difference between a Photoshop UI (worst of all), and a Sketchup UI (one of the smartest) :slight_smile:

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Agreed.

IMHO a great start is to remove settings in order to reduce the problem to the most fundamental level. Treat a human setting that can’t be inferred to be a bug. Try to learn and teach the system using network effects across the user base as much as possible. If everyone that say they have a lawn on my street, zip code or otherwise narrow geographic areas is successful with a certain set of settings, why not transpose that to my newly installed controller and say, this is typical settings for your neighborhood and compatible with rachio recommendations?

Leverage the cloud connected network beyond just weather data to true intelligence that creates shared knowledge.

Anyway, I want rachio to be successful and that’s why I created this thread.

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Also, does anyone from rachio involved in architecture and design lurk in these forums or am I just wasting my time?

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@franz franzCo-Founder/CTO @ Rachio
Does participate in the forum

Good to hear. I’m trying to be constructive and creative in my feedback.

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If you want less complexity why don’t you use a Flex Monthly or Fixed schedule instead of a Flex Daily schedule?

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Have you seen this post?

It looks like Rachio is starting to go down the path of trying to make things a little simpler, and utilizing machine learning.

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I read that post for the first time today, thanks for sharing. But to me this is an example of where rachio could with a minimum of effort do this a bit better. From what i gather smart zone (which by the way does not appear anywhere in the app -what is the point of branding something if it is not visible in the app?) is putting in what rachio considers to be defaults based on commmunity input rather than theoretical models.

I think that is a good thing -but how do i know which one it is using? And if its not a new capability, just another method for filling in the default settings, how does the install base know it is there? I suspect it provided the defaults for me, but nowhere do i know if these have been adjusted (or not) for my street/city/region.

I applaud getting more correct defaults, but it by itself doesn’t reduce complexity nor did rachio do much to advertise to inform me that they have a way to get the app to setup the zone correctly for my yard faster and with fewer errors. I think a popup saying "90% of users who explicitly programmed in settings for their lawn in your neighborhood used these settings would be so useful. :slight_smile:

Someone asked me to choose flex monthly instead of daily. I think this is a false narrative. The choice should not be between efficiency and ease of use. I want to have an efficient watering system. I do not wish to reduce efficiency to gain simplicity -or if i do that then i think that efficiency loss should be quantified before i make it.

But in general I think it would be wise to implement a system that lets me gain that efficiency without introducing complexity. Or if it requires me to accept more complexity at least articulate how much more efficiency gains i get from that complexity.

But alas, monthly or daily schedules seems to have little impact on how to best select settings like crop coefficency, root depths, depleted water, nozzle types, efficiencies. Those are all transposed across all schedules. Imho this quickly becomes a false choice - it doesn’t particularly reduce complexity and its not clear to me that any efficiency was lost or gained either way.

And just so i am clear. I am writing this feedback to show that i care, not to be overly harsh or to be a whiner. i hope that my feedback and criticism helps build a better platform for all.

Nest uses leaves for community feedback based on individual history and group history. I find nest remarkably easy to use, i used the ecobee for the remote sensors but it had sufficient more complexity vs. nest that i never could get my family to love the thermostat. Once nest had remote sensors out my ecobee went to donation. To me Rachio faces an variation of that, they are at the brink of greatness but its easy to loose that vision when faced with a ton of capabilities and opportunities.

To me the brand promise of a rachio is less effort to maintain my garden while gaining water efficiencies.
Lets make sure that this promise is delivered!

Final point, for ML, if this approach is going to adjust watering schedule make sure that you have a really solid regression testing for your data sets so that the predictor is correct for a number of well known data sets. If my garden gets destroyed because of algorithmic regression then i’ll get seriously upset. I’ve seen more than a fair share of ML approaches going sideways as data changed and inputs created unforeseen predictors and models. Be super careful…

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@ParB Thanks for the great feedback, we love it, I’ve made sure our product and data teams have seen this.

Agree with you on most points, one of our goals for next year is to deliver a much simpler, more predictable, and feedback driven schedule (along with incorporating data sets from similar yard data, etc.). Stay tuned!

:cheers:

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Thank Franz! Let me know how i can be of help to you.

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Will do as we get further along! Thanks again for the feedback.

:cheers:

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Hey, just to echo what Franz said, thanks for the feedback, and certainly, at a high level, you are preaching to the choir. I’m the Product Manager for a team that is focused on what Franz mentioned. We are still in pretty early stages, no beta or prototype we can share yet, but we’ll definitely be getting there in months to come. I would love to have your continued feedback as we evolve this solution, so I’ll reach out here as we make progress and see if you have time to take a peak. Thanks again for the vibrant feedback, the time you took to capture your experience with such clarity is greatly appreciated and fuels the improvement of the product! As I’m sure you know :wink:

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My experience with our Rachio - and this is a rather common issue across many products - is lack of attention to the UI from a human/customer perspective. Tucking functions in “where there’s room” does not make for ease of use. Clear, simple labels on functions and choices, makes for happier customers, fewer calls to tech support, win-win all around

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But please don’t lose all the nitty gritty of being able to adjust every setting exactly how you want it. I actually love the technical Aspect of being able to put in my soil type, root depth, sprinkler output, crop coefficient, etc.

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After reading this I am really glad Flex Monthly has worked for me. My grass is a dark green with water savings thru the roof. It’s the middle of summer here in TX. Plus, my brain hurts just from reading the complexity of trying to make something less complex.
I too would still like the ability to have the various controls as I will start diving into each in order to take advantage of Flex Daily.

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I totally agree with the author. Also the unit has been made with white plastic and all the lettering is also in white. If few more pennies were to be spent it would be great to have the lettering in a different color.

May i make an analogue here. Old school cars used to have carburators. We used to change the needles in them to adjust for high altitude, and they frequently needed the air/gas ratios adjusted. Then the timing chain advance had to be set for the spark to be fired into the cylinder at the right time. If the gas was poor or if the weather sucked the car ran poorly.

modern cars use knock sensors, computer control fuel injectors, computer controlled spark firing mechanisms. They continuously adjust for weather, pressure, temperature, fuel quality to maximize the engines operation under any condition. You don’t even know this is happening.

I want that. something that obsoletes the old mechanical water timer and brings me to the fuel injection era. I feel we are at the throttle body state, not quite there yet with fully computerized car injection.

For those who want the expert mode, just like in cars there are expert modes for you. Typically only used by the 1%'ers and almost always as an afterthought. I applaud you, but i want the effortless automation whenever possible that gets me to 98%. Right now i feel i get to 75% with automation, but it takes real effort.

I hope my analogs makes sense. I’m a bit of a car guy too… :slight_smile:

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I couldn’t agree more that Rachio is lost in complexity. We have 2 homes, one in Ohio with water from local utility and 1 in FL with well water. I started with the smaller system in Ohio and noticed that it was difficult to figure why some zones skipped, durations changed and the terms were beyond me (ME Purdue)… So I run a fixed schedule every other day with feedback from Rain Bird in-ground sensor, security cameras and software from the utility telling me daily how much water I have used and rain history. Any time I can I skip and still had a $500 water bill last month.

The FL house has 12 zones and a dedicated well for irrigation. There I have another RainBird in-ground sensor and 5 additional WiFi sensors scattered around within WiFi range. There I water every other day and watch the security cameras and the WiFi sensors (from Ohio). If a lot of rain I skip, if the moisture levels start dropping, I will adjust the frequency or duration. In FL the cost is only the cost to run the pump which is about $2.00 per session.

I will give Rachio credit for answering my questions. They figured out that I have a weak WiFI signal in FL and I plan to fix by relocating the controller in the house next time down. (An ethernet socket would be easier.) Another feature that I would like is the ability to run multiple zones at the same time. I am doing that now with a relay box but should not be necessary. I found that the builder of the house did not get my system high on the pump curve. I added the relay box and went from 12 zones 1 hr every session to 6 zones 1 hr per session.

I am a retired engineer and have to constantly control my desire to over-engineer everything. My irrigation systems are pretty simple and let me watch exactly what’s happening every day regardless of my physical location and adjust the schedules as necessary. Rachio has a lot of unnecessary complication (for me) in the predictive area and not enough in the area of bottom line cost to deliver a proper moisture pct at the least monthly cost.

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I have a Gen 1 controller which has served me wonderfully, saving time and water. I love this system. I am terrified of it finally giving out and having to deal with all the issues I seem to see in Gen 3. I want to set zones, times, and take the input from my stable PWS to know when not to water. I worry about the somewhat wonky wifi issues I read about and, frankly, things like crop coefficients are way above my pay grade. I live in Florida, essentially on sand. I can manually pause a schedule, or put in a little extra time from my iPhone. If I had to replace my Gen 1, I’d want another of the same generation, I think. I suspect there are a lot of people like me who want to keep it simple. If it gets to be too much hassle to set up or maintain, I’d seriously consider going back to a simple timer and rain sensor. There’s a point when things become way over engineered. Bottom line: I love the Rachio, but hope you can keep it simple for some of us.

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