Tuesday October 8, 2013 0 comments
By Debra Kahn
DENVER -- The cloud can help you cut your outdoor watering bill in half, according to the co-founders of Rach.io.
And they're not talking about afternoon thunderstorms.
The company's sprinkler-controller system, Iro (pronounced "ear-row"), leverages cloud-based technologies and your home Wi-Fi to enable intelligent water-delivery through your existing lawn and garden system.
A prototype system running all summer at the Denver home of company co-founder Chris Klein helped him save significantly on his water bill compared to last summer. And that's under Denver's Stage 2 drought water restrictions this year - which declare, for instance, that Denver Water customers may water only two days a week and must follow other rules.
"I actually did think I was pretty conservative with watering before, but in testing the algorithms and the inputs we can use to really make a smart system, I was able to save about 50 percent on watering," says Klein, one of Rach.io's three co-founders.
The intelligence in the system -- which includes a small piece of hardware and a phone app -- comes from cloud-based algorithms and analytics that consider each home's specific conditions. The Iro is a "connected device" (i.e., connected to the Internet through a wireless networking chip) that replaces an existing sprinkler controller with cloud-based calculations about location (geography), weather conditions and yard and soil characteristics (users just answer a few questions at set-up).
"Based on key attributes, we'll actually set a schedule for them from our cloud-scheduling algorithms," said Klein. "Once that's set, they can use their smartphone or a PC to manually control their irrigation zones."
Using this "Control from Anywhere" feature, for example, a user could turn off his lawn sprinklers during an unforeseen rainstorm while at work.
A feedback loop with the user allows for automated refinements. "We want this to be as proactive as possible," says co-founder Franz Garsombke, "so we'll be querying them (the users). We want to have them have the least interaction with their schedule as possible."
The system's intelligence and flexibility really shine when one considers that different parts of a single landscape have different water requirements. The Iro allows users to treat each irrigation zone separately as if it had its own controller, says co-founder Matt Reisman. That means, for example, that a user doesn't have to water his trees as frequently as he waters his lawn.
These and other features allow Rachio co-founders to position the Iro broadly within the landscape sprinkler market.
"We know it's a huge market," says Klein. "We know that many of the controllers out there need to be replaced."
The product's appeal is not only to landscape lovers and tech-enthusiasts but also to consumers concerned about sustainability.
Reisman points to EPA statistics estimating that as much as half the outdoor water used in the U.S. is wasted from inefficient watering methods and systems.
Users can begin saving water at set-up by using the Iro's "Quick Conserve" feature. They can subsequently review their savings through the system's personalized reports and analytics.
And that means "less water and a healthier landscape," says Reisman, in summarizing Iro's benefits.
Advance orders of the Iro for shipment in Spring 2014 are available through the Rach.io web site for $199. The co-founders are currently completing a funding seed round and are perfecting plans for their manufacturing operations and distribution channels.
Building a startup business is not new to the three co-partners, all of whom acquired advanced degrees and years of experience in technology and business (including startup businesses) before coming together as a team.
In fact, it was the appeal of innovation that brought the three together during last year's Denver Startup Week. After hearing Klein present the sprinkler-controller idea during the weekend's pitch competition (which Rach.io won), Reisman was interested but hesitant.
Then after watching Klein's and Garsombke's progress, "I stepped back and realized that this is what I've always wanted to do," says Reisman.
The team of three went on to win the Colorado Innovation Network's (COIN's) "Glorious Failure: In Search of Success Innovation Challenge" in August of this year. Then in September, they won the Colorado Technology Association's APEX Challenge. Recently, Rach.io's Iro was also chosen as one of eight finalists for the Mobilize Product Showcase in San Francisco later this month.
The trio enjoys the feedback and interaction in competitions like these and can readily see the benefits.
"Our focus on really engaging the public, our community, and people who care about this state has enabled us to evolve our product and our messaging," says Klein.