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Rachio

Rachio 3 Smart Wi-Fi Sprinkler Controller

Mechanical Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Industrial Design, Digital-Physical Design, Product Brand Language, Engineering Analysis & Optimization

Rachio wanted to expand its market-leader position with a new, improved version of the product its users love.

The Rachio 3 delivers new technological capabilities and an optimized product experience while maintaining Rachio’s brand essence.

Bresslergroup’s partnership with Rachio began with the development of its second-generation smart sprinkler controller. That award-winning, Generation 2 product helped elevate the company to a market leader position in a diverse field filled with strong competition. It also gave Rachio the unique advantage of watching firsthand how people react to and use its product.

Bresslergroup’s project team of electrical engineers, mechanical engineers, and industrial designers worked closely once again with the Colorado startup on the Rachio 3, this time to add technological features while improving upon the previous version’s user experience. (Read our reasons why — and strategies for how — to go next gen.) The resulting device represents a step up in capabilities, ease of use, and quality of interactions while remaining true to the brand’s familiar look and feel.

New Technology and Capabilities

The Rachio 3 has new capabilities, thanks to technology added by Bresslergroup’s engineers. A long-range LoRa radio communicates with the company’s debut accessory, the Wireless Flow Meter. A new wireless chipset improves range, supports dual band Wi-Fi (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz), and allows for easy connection with a variety of routers. A Wi-Fi reset button added to the product’s physical interface facilitates the process of pairing with wireless.

Easier To Install and Use

To make wire installation easier, the Bresslergroup team developed spring-loaded terminal blocks while working closely with a trusted supplier. These new, improved connectors operate with a simple press of a finger to load or remove wires and they’re able to accept low gauge (larger) wires. The new connectors are more accessible through a large bay carved into the bottom of the unit’s housing.       The Rachio 3’s connectors form a straight, horizontal line, and zones are clearly marked beneath corresponding connectors. A horizontal light pipe with 24 RGB LEDs runs the length of the line. The LED bar communicates many details to the user, including indicating zone status at a glance, onboarding the device, showing rain delays, and easily troubleshooting issues.

Developing the 7.75-inch wide lightpipe was a technical challenge — the LEDs live on a PCB (printed circuit board) that sits at the back of the physical housing. Getting those LEDs to transmit light across nearly an inch of space while keeping the zone differentiation strong required a good amount of prototyping and iterating.

The LED bar communicates many details to the user, including indicating zone status at a glance, onboarding the device, showing rain delays, and easily troubleshooting issues.

Product reviewers have hailed the big, bright LED indicator bar as a notable feature. The Rachio 3 also has four-way manual override controls built into the logo that can be employed to start, stop, cycle through, and skip zones. These can be used whether the cover is on or off. There were also many challenges to maintain the tolerances between the integrated controls and the lightpipe. Reviewers have also remarked over and over again how delightfully easy it is to remove the Rachio 3’s cover. Bresslergroup’s engineers designed the magnetic closure that allows it to slide off without difficulty and slip securely back into place.

Digital-Physical Alignment

The Bresslergroup team ideated the integrated controls, snap-free front housing, and LED channel status bar early in the process and the challenge was to develop a distinctive design incorporating these features. The ultimate direction communicates Rachio’s simplicity and ease of use. The form is intended to convey a friendly, approachable product without being cute or relying on gimmicks. It was also important to provide a visual through-line from Rachio’s Gen 2 controller. The status bar is positioned symmetrically at the product midline with convex upper surfacing contrasting with a concave lower section. The design reflects the ability of the product to provide balanced watering and also highlights the components that are being controlled in the user’s yard.

A significant amount of time was spent defining the look of the status bar. The physical design and diffusion were carefully considered along with the animations and colors that indicate different actions taken by the controller. The goal was to provide feedback and status information clearly but also provide the owner with a sense of delight and satisfaction as the system performs its task of acting on the scientifically optimized Rachio watering algorithms . Throughout development, the Bresslergroup team kept close track of app development, executed in-house by Rachio, in order to align physical interactions with the app’s digital cues. The Rachio 3 has improved alignment in look (color, fonts, layout, and visual language) and feel with its companion app. As an example, the music player-style controls — those icons that universally communicate Stop, Play, FF, Rewind — rolled into the physical interface on the Rachio 3’s inner housing and subtly integrated around the badge on its front cover echo elements from the app design.

Rachio's debut accessory, the Wireless Flow Meter.

Design for Manufacturing

The Rachio 3 delivers all of the above and fits inside the existing outdoor enclosure designed for the previous version. This constraint required the unit to nest within a prescribed shape and to share an identical bolt pattern to the second-generation controller. Along with giving customers an easy upgrade path — they can easily swap out the older unit for the new one — it saved Rachio from investing in new tooling for a new outdoor enclosure.

Bresslergroup’s team worked closely with manufacturing partners to assure there would be a repeatable and high-quality finish for all the parts. The team also worked closely with Rachio’s existing vendors to further simplify production by designing similarities between the 8- and 16-zone products. The parts’ design allows for tooling inserts to make up their differential, cutting costs by eliminating the need for additional sets of tooling.

The Rachio 3 launched in spring 2018. In June, the Wirecutter, the New York Times’ product review website, announced they’d spent three months testing eleven models and named the Rachio 3 the best smart sprinkler controller “whether you’re an irrigation novice or a certified master gardener.” Both the 8-zone and 16-zone versions of the Rachio 3 are Amazon bestsellers. Rachio remains Amazon’s “most- and highest-rated WiFi sprinkler controller brand.”

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