With the return of Summer comes the now familiar imposition of water restrictions and the unwelcome return of headaches for gardeners and nursery managers alike. Fortunately, pain relief for lovers of all things horticultural is available in the form of clever green tech known as smart irrigation, which plugs in to online weather information to optimize garden watering and minimize waste. Timing being everything in business (as well as comedy), smart sprinkler manufacturer Cyber-Rain has recently upgraded its range to add more independent zone control, better wireless communication, a simple and clear interface and an enhanced software solution.

Water waste

The conservation of water is getting increasingly relevant to the daily lives of a growing number of people in the US (and the rest of the world too), as water shortages and even all out drought threaten to become ever more commonplace occurrences and water prices continue to soar at an alarming rate.. And with up to 70% of landscape sprinkling ending up as wasteful runoff, intelligent use of water for simple things like making sure your plants have enough to drink is an especially important issue.

Smart irrigation systems have of course been around for a few years now and helped numerous households and businesses make sure that their precious plants get exactly the right amount of water only when needed - more information on the tech can be viewed on the Irrigation Association website (including details of the forthcoming "Smart Irrigation Month"). The systems generally come in a couple of flavors - either using moisture sensors to detect if the soil needs water or utilizing local weather reports to decide when your precious flora needs a drink and when it is safe to wait for rain. Cyber-Rain predominantly uses the latter.

Simplicity itself

The Cyber-Rain XCI system is easy to set up and easy to use. "It is the simplest system on the market to both setup and maintain. It can be installed in less than 30 minutes and the interface is intuitive. Many other systems have monthly fees for weather data, but there are none with Cyber-Rain, " says the company's Greg Nagy. And a very recent system overhaul means there are now two versions of the unit to choose from instead of one. The standard is aimed more towards green-fingered home users while the pro caters for business professionals such as landscapers and nurseries.

The XCI system controller connects to the home or business PC via a wireless access point. Simple intuitive software then uses the gardener's own broadband internet connection to find weather reports for the local area which in turn facilitates customization of watering schedules according to actual need. Predictions of hot and dry weather increase water flow while cooler and humid expectations result in less. Multiple zones can be controlled from one unit and additional units can be added on if needed. Reports on how much water is saved are fed back to the user, typically savings are around 40% on average household water bills (meaning the system could pay for itself in about a year).

The recent system enhancements include:

  • users can now control either 8 or 16 independent zones using one unit
  • an all-new touchpad interface has been added to the controller for easier manual operation
  • there's a bigger LCD display on the controller to give even more information at a glance
  • improved wiring solutions make it even easier to connect and set up
  • the wireless access point now comes driver-less for improved compatibility and has a better range
  • a Smart Scheduling Wizard takes the user through a kind of interview to quickly establish and suggest optimum watering recommendations for particular individual landscapes, integrating water restriction information as necessary
  • the simple user interface has been made even easier to use and now incorporates a traffic light message status system (which allows users to quickly deal with potential issues), lots of water flow information and expected weather conditions as well as details on how the system is performing
  • a rain sensor input to allow more accurate and localized rain shutoff
  • the Pro version also benefits from a flow sensor input and temperature and current sensors for improved monitoring and fully automated alert information

Cost and availability....

The Cyber-Rain system is available in the US only - apparently this is mainly due to the fact that the kind of detailed weather information needed for accurate scheduling is not available elsewhere. The Pro series is currently being rolled out to landscape wholesalers such as Ewing and Hydro-Scape, prices start at USD$625 for an 8 zone unit. The standard 8 zone version is available online from Smarthome for $399 (markedly cheaper than the company's list price of $570) and a handful of retailers in Southern California such as Armstrong Nurseries and Green Thumb.

For more information on pricing and availability, point your browser in the direction of Cyber-Rain's website.

And if you're worried about cost then you'll no doubt be pleased to learn that many counties throughout the US offer rebates for installing household smart irrigation systems which could cover most or even all of your initial costs.

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