The American West and Southwest are usually in a state of drought. It's not climate change causing this; rather, it's the nature of this arid region of the world. Add millions of people living in a desert area, all of whom want green lawns and colorful gardens, and you create a need for a lot of water that is simply not available. Thanks to the laws of supply and demand, that makes water a scarce -- and expensive -- resource. So a new company, Rachio, decided to create a product that combines the smarts of the iPhone, the connectivity of the Internet, and some attractively-designed custom hardware to help home and business owners to gain more control and use less of that pricey H2O. The Rachio Iro (US$249 for 8-zone, $299 for 16-zone) is the first smart sprinkler controller designed specifically to be set up and programmed by iPhone, and it's available both directly from Rachio and from a number of Home Depot stores in the US.
- Controls: Standard 24 V AC sprinkler valves
- Number of zones controlled: 8 or 16
- Connectivity: Wi-Fi
- Available inputs for master valve or pump, rain sensor
The one thing about most sprinkler controllers is that they're usually in locations where nobody can see them -- dark basements, crawl spaces, garages. That's particularly sad in the case of the Rachio Iro, which is really quite attractive.
Unlike most sprinkler controllers, there are no knobs, dials, or displays on the outside of the Iro. Instead, it's a sleek white box with Rachio's sprinkler-like logo, a small sensor on the lower left side, and a set of LEDs on the front right side. That's it.
By dispensing with all of the manual controls, the Iro immediately lets you know that you're going to be using your iPhone to do all of the brain work.
Installation of the Iro is incredibly simple, particularly if you already have an existing sprinkler controller. Rachio suggests that you take a few photos of your existing controller to document which wires go where, and that you also use your iPhone to check the strength of the Wi-Fi signal at the location where the Iro will be installed.
Next, you remove the old controller, then use a pair of included screws to mount a back panel on the wall that contains wiring connectors (spring loaded) for the low-voltage lines as well as a pinout connector that plugs into the back of the main unit. I found it very easy to plug in the wires -- you literally just push the bare ends into a small hole while pushing down on a "button", then let up on the button to hold them in place.
At that point, you're ready to install the main Iro unit by lining it up with the back panel and mating the connector. Plug the included AC adapter into a wall socket and plug the other end into the Iro, and the unit powers up. One green LED tells you that you have power; a second LED flashes red to indicate that it's time to set up the Wi-Fi connection.
That's done by using the free Rachio app. You'll need to create a free account to register your Iro. A step-by-step process takes you through through the process of identifying the network you want to connect the Iro to and entering the password. Then comes the fun part; you tap an on-screen button when you're ready to send the information to the Iro, then place it face down on the section of the device where the little optical sensor is. The iPhone screen flashes a pattern that is captured and translated by the Iro, and seconds later the Wi-FI LED settles down to a green flashing pattern to indicate that your connection is live.