Wi-Fi-Based Irrigation Technology Explained
Incorporating Wi-Fi Technology into Your Irrigation Business
Are you still in the dark about how to best incorporate Wi-Fi-based irrigation technology into your business?
The national Irrigation Association recently aired a webinar focused on the growing popularity of this technology, as well as the advantages and opportunities it brings to the landscape irrigation market. To purchase the webinar, click here.
Landscape Management magazine recently spoke with webinar presenters Stuart Eyring, president of Hydro-Rain, and Chris Klein, CEO and co-founder of Rachio. Here are some highlights of that interview:
How They Work
Q: How do Wi-Fi irrigation controllers work?
Chris Klein (CK): A Wi-Fi-based irrigation controller uses the homeowner’s Wi-Fi network to connect to the cloud. That’s where a lot of the process and scheduling takes place, and then that information is sent back down to the controller. You can have access to it through an app on any device you want—a desktop computer, mobile phone, tablet, etc.—and they all communicate with the same computers in the cloud.
Q: Have you seen examples of Wi-Fi controllers being used to upgrade older systems?
CK: Yes, this is happening at a rapid pace. Eighty-five percent of our customers are replacing working controllers, and it’s just as easy as replacing any other controller.
Q: How do you program Wi-Fi controllers?
Stuart Eyring (SE): In terms of programming, the smartphone apps dramatically add to the ease of which programing is done—it’s much better than programming a typical display controller. But there’s a difference in comfort level in terms of where the user base is coming from. There is a transition point to getting people comfortable with this.
Weather Station Access
Q: Traditional smart controllers had their own weather instruments on-site, but Wi-Fi-based irrigation controllers now have access to millions of weather stations. How do they get evapotranspiration (ET) information?
CK: We use a variety of weather data providers and run them through equations to get ET. This process is getting more and more sophisticated. The other cool thing is homeowners can choose a weather station, which promotes continued engagement with their irrigation system.
SE: In our case, we use the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Weather Service database in the U.S. Internationally, we use a database out of Norway. But it actually can be very helpful to have a rain sensor at the location, as well, because it can improve reliability.
Q: So you can add other sensors to a Wi-Fi controller?
SE: Yes, we’ve seen an increase in the use of sensing devices like weather stations and moisture sensors on-site that improve the quality of data.
Connections, Security and Updates
Q: What happens to the controller if it loses the Wi-Fi connection?
SE: The majority of the data is kept in the cloud, but there is a basic operating program that’s stored on the actual controller. While the controller won’t typically make any adjustments based on environmental conditions while in that mode, it will continue to run. When the connection is reestablished, the adjustments will begin again. This is typical across manufacturers.
Q: How do you protect security in terms of Wi-Fi and passwords?
SE: Security definitely can be a concern to a homeowner when they allow someone access to their network. But there is a difference between a contractor connecting to a homeowner’s network and connecting through the cloud. In an ideal case, the homeowner is sharing an access code through an app that would allow their contractor to control the system through the cloud, but not have access to the homeowner’s network.
Q: What happens if I buy my controller today and in 60 days it’s out of date?
CK: Updates to the firmware and the app happen automatically, so customers always have the latest and greatest version. In terms of hardware, who knows what will happen in the future, but as of now, our Generation 1 and 2 products work the same.
SE: In most cases, you won’t even know the firmware has been updated unless you go in and look at it.
Opportunities and Support
Q: What are the business impacts and opportunities that can be enjoyed by contractors venturing into this arena?
CK: There is a great opportunity to impact a contractor’s business by having a number of connected customers. By installing that product and working with them you have a connection with them. You can stay in touch, the homeowner knows where to go for help and it presents an opportunity for customer retention.
Q: What about support? How do you help contractors when they are stuck?
CK: We have a dedicated contractor phone line and can be reached through email and chat, too.
SE: We have noticed that there is really more upfront hand-holding required. But once the Wi-Fi-based irrigation controller is installed and operating, support requirements go down. That’s because of the ease of the interface and how intuitive it is. Getting started can be challenging, but once contractors get the hang of it, it’s really very easy.