Smart Irrigation Control - A comparison

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Smart Controllers with your sprinkler controller creates beautiful landscapesPaul E. Urzagaste a Graduate Student at Utah State University wrote his thesis about research he conducted on various smart irrigation control products.  I asked him to share his thoughts about our Weather Reach products compared to his experience with other products.  He shared this with me and gave me permission to put it on our Blog.
“Based on my experience and the results we obtained, between the controllers we tested, there are not significant differences in terms of water conservation.  But when we analyze in detail, different aspects of the controllers, we can find advantages and disadvantages in every single one of the controllers.
Let’s start with the word “smart”.  This is what defines and differentiates these controllers from the rest.  As a customer, I would want for these controllers to be in charge of watering my landscape, and I shouldn’t have to worry about anything else.  Unfortunately, this is where some of the potential frustrations start.  Some controllers just tend to fail more than others; some even fail all the time.  Common problem is for the sensors to fail, and that involves taking time to climb wherever the sensor was installed, and checking if everything is ok, checking the cable, the controller, trying to find the problem.  What if the sensor is buried?  What if there’s more than one sensor?  Anyway, the moment a smart controller fails, it loses the “smart” side of it, and becomes like a regular time-based controller.
Having a smart controller that doesn’t use onsite sensors is a great advantage, because there are fewer parts that could potentially fail, reducing the frustration of having to deal with a faulty device.  On top of that, Campbell Scientific, is very well know for their environmental products, and high quality, that the only reason a controller would fail would be due to the internet connection.  And in such case, the historical data saved in the device would kick in, without affecting the irrigation.
Another important advantage is the accuracy of the data.  We can’t compare data measured by a 100 dollar sensor, to data from legitimate, thousands of dollars’ worth, weather station.  We were able to see some trends were Rain Bird was able to adapt the irrigation based on weather conditions, more accurately than the other controllers.  This difference was even more noticeable on days with high precipitation.  The difference was definitely in the fact that one just senses rainfall, and the other one quantifies it.  In places with higher precipitation rates, these could end up being a big difference in water savings.
Last, but not least: retrofitting.  This is one of the best attributes when we talk about convenience.  Most people already have an irrigation system in their houses, so installing a controller link would just add value to the current irrigation system.
Other aspects that I find valuable too are the services that come with the product.  Many times I spoke with customer service from different manufacturers, and it was very satisfying when, as a customer, I was able to explain my problem to the technicians and they were able to walk me through the steps very well.  The ability to manage and monitor the irrigation online, or from your phone.  That is something that I haven’t seen, except in big athletic fields and golf courses.  We are getting to the point where this feature is going to be so common, and we have a head start.  Also, how user friendly is the programming?  Can the user monitor the amount of water used?  Those are little things that also affect the customer’s decision.
I haven’t mentioned anything about the depletion approach vs. the regular % adjustment irrigation.  As a plant scientist, I would definitely recommend the depletion, since it’s better for the plants, encourage deeper roots, etc. although, this could be very tricky, especially when switching, from irrigating every day, or every other day, to perhaps just once or twice a week.  Less frequent irrigations are better in terms of water use, although plants can get affected by it.  If the plants were used to receive water every single day, the moment the switch occurs, the plants will suffer stress and start looking bad until they get used to that frequency of irrigation.  That was a problem we saw with Rain Bird ET Manager, it wasn’t a huge deal, because the grass recovered later, but this could potentially be an issue if the customer is not very well informed, or if device is not programmed in a way that it won’t impact the plants appearance, while reducing the frequency little by little.  
Sorry, this end up becoming a really long email, I guess I got a little excited.  Let me know what you think.
Paul Urzagaste