Will smart irrigation systems become fully integrated into smart-home systems? No one has the crystal ball that will tell us the answer to that yet. But we can tell you that every major irrigation manufacturer is looking at this. Also, in the past year or so, a number of startup companies began marketing Wi-Fi based smart controllers that can be accessed via one’s smartphone, tablet or laptop. Some of these can “talk to” smart-home Wi-Fi hubs.
Up until now, this remote-control capability was only available for the commercial market, for large systems with dozens of zones and hundreds of sprinkler heads. It has been slower to come to the residential market. Is this a game-changer? We’ll have to wait and see.
Already, landscape lighting is starting to be integrated into this world. At FX Luminaire, a division of Hunter Industries, San Marcos, California, product manager Ryan Williams says the company has been beta-testing smartphone control that integrates with Lutron’s smart-home control system. And consumers who own certain Hunter smart controllers along with FX Luminaire lighting systems can already control both through a single smartphone app.
“The short answer to ‘Does Hunter have a Wi-Fi controller?’ is ‘Not yet,’ said John Wascher, product manager for residential controllers. “The more complicated answer is that we cater to a different customer when it comes to installation and requirements for connection. Features that are not usually desired by a homeowner are vital for a professional.”
Meanwhile, “Toro doesn’t want to miss out on a section of the market where there’s a significant demand,” said Burnett Jones, senior marketing manager at The Toro Company’s Riverside, California-based irrigation division. “Has it gotten to the point where it’s driven us to do anything? We haven’t released anything yet, but it’s definitely something that we’re keeping our eye on, for sure,” said Jones.
Dan Palmer, CEO of Palo Alto, California-based OnPoint Ecosystems, says that integrating with smart-home technology is “definitely down the road” for his company. Its smart controllers already use Wi-Fi for remote internet access.
Galcon USA, in San Rafael, California, is working on a new product line called ‘Galcon Smart.’ “The Galcon Smart family is not just Wi-Fi, it’s also Bluetooth, it’s also network radio, and it’s also cellular communications,” said Roy Levinson, CEO.
“We’re not limiting ourselves only to Wi-Fi products; we have a whole suite of communicating devices.”
According to Levinson, this new line will bring their controllers into the “Internet of Things.” They’re still in the initial stages of launching the first line of products, and haven’t yet fully integrated them into home automation systems, but are exploring ways of doing that.
How smart-home technology works
Home automation systems aren’t new; they’ve been around for a couple of decades. But they were very expensive and out of the reach of most homeowners. The tech revolution has made the components much cheaper.
These older systems had central hubs that controlled the lighting, air conditioning, security and other systems. Settings were accessed through a control panel on a wall. The central hub acted as an interpreter, because all of the subsystems ‘spoke’ different languages. Adding a new subsystem—say, a pool-heater control—required having someone come out and program it in.
With the new smart-home technology, the hub and the subsystems speak the same language, Wi-Fi. No one has to come out and program anything in. Each subsystem has its own app; a lighting app controls the lighting, the thermostat’s app controls the thermostat, and so on.
Eventually, there may be one central app that can control all the subsystems. But smart-home technology hasn’t quite gotten there yet.
Through Wi-Fi, the subsystems can also connect to one another. For instance, if a fire breaks out in a home equipped with both an integrated smart controller and smoke detectors, the smoke detector will tell the irrigation system to turn on.