Making the controller smart - use the data to determine when to water!


#1

I’ve sent several emails and also chatted on the phone and still not satisfied with any of the answers. I’ve also spent some time in the forum and I can see that many have similar issues to me. I don’t think the Rachio team is effectively considering a basic customer use case.

I’d say everyone with an irrigation system and particularly those who invest in a “smart” controller want the same thing - green landscaping with the least amount of water used. Its a basic tenet. The Rachio has all the capability but its simply not using it.

I have twice a week water restrictions. I’m allowed to water morning and evening but not in the heat of the day. This equates to 30 hours per week of possible water time. The controller knows the weather, ET rate and all my zone parameters. Why can’t it just water each zone when needed within my restriction time windows? If it waters every hour it can on the watering days but the ET data shows it’s still not enough water, then it could simply send a message to me indicating there is an issue.

I understand I can waste hours of time tweaking many detailed settings on the flex schedule. As an engineer I find that interesting but unnecessary. I want the controller to water what it thinks is the correct amount based on its inputs and then I can adjust up or down as I see fit. I don’t care about crop coefficient, available water, etc.

The whole point of a smart controller is to be smart. What I have been told is that since I have 2 day water restrictions, then I need to used fixed schedules which is exactly what my 1980 technology Hunter controller can do. I had the Hunter solar sync also so it already did seasonal adjust. The whole point of the smart controller is to eliminate dumb fixed schedules and to use the data to determine the watering schedule.

I think 2 types of schedules are needed - that is it. Fixed and Smart. Fixed is tied to the calendar and smart uses data to determine when to water. The most elegant solutions are the most simple.

Does Rachio plan to make the controller smart and handle the common water restriction use case?


#2

I’m not going to comment on all your remarks, but one thing Rachio could do is put a water window feature in the programming. In other words, only permit irrigation between certain hours. This is a common feature on many controllers. I hope Rachio gives you a good reply.


#3

@jeffc

With our 3 schedule types we are trying to accommodate everyone. Our algorithms are complex (especially flex daily scheduling) and as an engineer you know the old adage of garbage in, garbage out. If we have good incoming data for your zone and weather, flex daily schedules can’t be beat.

Flexible monthly was built for little to no intervention by the user. Yes, we need to incorporate restrictions into those.

I do believe even with fixed day schedules (i.e. M/Thu) our weather intelligence features will do quite well. It has seasonal shift which adjusts your minutes each month automatically, rain skip based on observed and forecasted data, and climate skip which does track soil moisture data and will skip if it detects you can make it until the next scheduled watering day.

We are continuing to strive to make the system simpler for everyone. We are dealing with a complex problem where everyone has special characteristics of their yard. We could also have the best data in the world but if your irrigation system was installed incorrectly it really doesn’t matter.

Hope this helps explain our current feature set, challenges, and our continued desire to move scheduling forward while also making it simpler and more flexible.

:cheers:


#4

I think people are analyzing everything to death. I call it the paralysis of analysis.


#5

Franz’s quote is the best answer. Even the best controller technology can’t fix a bad designs application of water.

Older systems were installed with little consideration of plant type or hydrozone/ microclimate. Systems that irrigate with mix/matched plants are the most challenging to irrigate efficiently. And new irrigation systems, for the most part, are not designed to consider where the same turf/landscape environment will be in ten years when the mature plants start shading areas that were never shaded when they were young.

Home properties evolve every five to ten years. If irrigation design and new scheduling is not considered in this evolution, water conservation will continue to be a big challenge. And a smart controller will not fix the problem.


#6

Thanks Franz. I appreciate your response. I know there are multiple use models and you are trying to please everyone. I think you are about 95+% there with the the current algorithms. You already know all the zone parameters, the weather, and therefore the evap rates. This allows the flex schedule to output a watering schedule. If you only incorporated some intelligence on acceptable water start and stop times and flagged a situation where enough water could not be applied, it would be much improved and effectively cover the common water restriction use case. If the actual moisture rates did not match the calculated rates, you could simply increase or decrease as needed. I tried to compensate by adding another schedule but it seems another schedule negates the flex calculations - i.e. the system cannot account for its own water applied.

My concern with fixed schedules is if I have my grass and bed zones on one schedule, then the beds will water every time needed or not. It seems fixed schedules cannot adjust by zone - only the whole schedule. Do you recommend having a fixed schedule for grass and another fixed schedule for beds? I previously had a Hunter Pro C controller with solar sync and it adjusted by season and skipped for rain also. The Rachio adds a little intelligence to that with forecasted weather, but I am really looking to control each zone as needed vs. just a global on/off.

@Sprinklerman - I agree that a controller cannot fix a system with mixed heads and vastly different parameters on the same zone. That is not my problem and that is not my original concern. I fully expect to set up the smart controller with the best info I can and then adjust based on real world performance. My original point is that the controller would be improved if it could consider the inputs and water in a time window allowed by water restrictions.


#7

The biggest stumbling block to most watering systems (yard plus controller) is that legacy yards are typically set up with more than one root depth plant type on a zone. There is almost nothing that can be done to make a dumb layout smart. If 4" or 6" deep plants (vegetables or grass) is on a zone with trees or big shrubs (24" or 15"+), they will all need to be watered at about once every other day most of the hot season to a capacity of about 1" per square foot of soil/week to survive. That will eventually make most trees suffer, and use more water than would be needed, as they will all be treated to have high crop coefficient (maybe 2x what is needed) and the soil will have less oxygen than ideal and therefore less microorganisms to break down things for the plants. My system is somewhere in the middle. Someday I will lay things out differently now that I know more.

The controller should have at least these schedule types:

  1. fixed interval, fixed duration (dumb)
  2. fixed days, fixed duration (dumb)
  3. fixed interval, variable duration (smart)
  4. fixed days, variable duration (smart)
  5. variable days, variable duration (very smart) - Rachio flex daily

#8

When you have a mix of different plants in a zone you must select the vegetation type with the highest water requirement. There is really no other choice unless you change the landscaping. Thank you Rachio for all the terrific things you have coming our way!


#9

The simple answer is a bluetooth or wifi moisture sensor you stick in the lawn, it will tell the controller when to water and when to stop. You will need to find he worst spot in your lawn ( sun, hill, packed soil) and put the sensor there. or just move it around and let the system learn what water your lawn needs and how often it can then adjust based upon weather-rain but it just can’t build the base schedule on it’s own.


#10

I actually made a suggestion a couple weeks back (when I first got my unit) – along the same lines, I don’t have mandated restricted times… but my property is a bus stop… so in April, May and part of June… then again in September… if I water between 5:45 AM and 8:45 AM, kids get wet. The Rachio doesn’t yet have a “NEVER WATER BETWEEN” option. I have been told they acknowledge that it’s a good idea, and hopefully we see it in the future. In fact, spefically what I was told would be their workaround would be a FINISH BEFORE ___… very much like the START AFTER ___ option we have now. So, just expand that option to what you need which is “NEVER WATER ON ___ or BETWEEN ___” - sounds super eas, and the system would still be able to water appropriately, using existing algorithms, just when it’s “allowed” to run.


#11

The software my company writes has areas where schedules can be defined to allow or not to allow certain functions to be performed. It can be done via a shell or a GUI, and the GUI is basically a calendar where you click and drag an “allowed” window on each day of the week. We offer 1H or 15M granularity for people who need to better fine tune things than a 1H selection window allows.

I could see where there is value in a similar option in the Rachio software. To me “smart” devices also need to provide what I call in our internal feature reviews and bug triage the ability to avoid “do we look dumb if we do this?” scenarios. Watering kids at a bus stop could be one of those moments when you say “I have this smart controller and it does all these fancy things like track weather cycles and evaporation rates and how much water the plant roots are getting. Except… little Johnnie may get soaked next week and the week after if we get some sun and there’s nothing I can do about it.” :slight_smile: Johnnie’s mom suddenly has a different idea of what smart means and decides she’ll no longer pick up their Great Dane’s offerings from our yard.

I suspect there would need to be two overlapping windows created.

  1. An overall allowed watering window
  2. A per-zone disallowed watering window

The overall allowed watering window defines when Rachio schedules would be allowed to run. Schedules themselves would be unaffected although in schedules I do wish we had “finish before” or “finish before sunrise” option based on our latitude/longitude. The per-zone disallowed watering window simply culls time from the allowed watering window on certain day/time blocks to ensure certain areas don’t run at certain times. The bus stop is a great example. We have a couple zones at our house where I may use a similar function. One of our zones due to yard layout ends up hitting our garbage/recycling bins and part of a walkway in the middle of the arc. Another zone on the front lawn hits the mailbox in its arc. Neither are a huge deal as watering is usually completed early enough that it does not matter. However if the option existed I would probably still disallow the first zone from running when I take the trash out early Thursday mornings as well as the weekday window of time my wife usually walks to her car to leave for work. The second zone I’d prevent from running in the window of time the mail usually shows up Mon-Fri and Sat. Is that zone normally going to ever run when the mail is going to show up? Probably not, but I’d appreciate the insurance of knowing I won’t blast our mail carrier in the face. :closed_umbrella:

Adding knobs and levers and buttons certainly complicates the underlying job of any software driven task, but it also allows for the smarts of dealing with life’s real world scenarios. To me that is where the magic of smart devices really start to come into their own element. It is great if a device performs its core job in a way better than our older dumb devices. However, if by extension of its intelligence it performs the core task in a way that improves quality of life or at least makes life more predictable then it really starts to shine.

These are certainly first world problems we’re all trying to solve, but it’s fun to toss ideas back and forth.


#12

Your idea in basis is good but it is trivial to craft a schedule that avoids regularly occurring events. If trash day is Monday, avoid that day. The more interesting implementation is a motion sensor that sends an ifttt message to pause or cancel watering. Or on the other hand, turns on the sprinklers to get rid of the great Dane contemplating a gift.