By Greg Fournier and Tim Pettman
The aquatics industry is entering an era of unprecedented innovation and evolution. With the advancement in micro-processors, data memory, touch screens, and other electronic components, automation is not only becoming more mainstream and more affordable, but equipment manufacturers are also starting to keep up with the innovation curve. That said, pool automation systems have evolved in the past three years to go beyond the pool, giving homeowner’s the power to orchestrate their entire backyard.
A little history on pool automation
Initially, the industry was behind the times when it came to the control of pools. In many cases, these devices were only able to turn an electrical device on/off—normally the filter pump—using mechanical timers. Millions of pools had, and many still use, these time clocks, which introduced homeowners to the world of pool automation. Time clocks were also integrated into other pool equipment, such as pumps, to make individual components smarter.
Approximately a decade ago, pool equipment started moving away from time clocks and, instead, manufacturers adapted and designed basic controls for pumps, lights, filtration, and electronic valves. These solutions, however, were mostly cost prohibitive to the average pool owner, and were really only available for higher-end pools.
Manufacturers then turned to simplifying the work-intensive task of keeping a pool chemically balanced. This included measuring and generating chlorine (Cl) with salt chlorinators and dispensing sanitizers through tab feeders and liquid dispensers. As an industry, the controls portfolio expanded to create a basic, yet highly functional level of control for smaller pools and state-of-the-art automation systems looking to leverage other technologies.
The next stage in the aquatic industries’ automation evolution is happening now, with manufacturers not only developing state-of-the-art systems for pools, but also for complete backyard automation.
Automation systems designed today are much smarter and have the ability to manage more in the backyard than ever before. These systems can now manage the pool, spa/hot tub, chemical levels, lights, water features, as well as the overall ambiance of the homeowner’s outdoor living space, including landscape lighting, fans, heaters, and other ambiance features. In addition, the integration with other technologies or ecosystems, allows amazing control over everything in the backyard, from anywhere, by anyone with or without user interaction.
Today’s backyard automation systems are further being revolutionized via integration with a variety of home automation systems. The latter, for example, manage occupancy, including locks, lights, shades, temperature, and outlets—pretty much everything and anything electronic in the house. As manufacturers in the aquatics industry further develop their systems, they look to seamlessly integrate these two ecosystems further. As this happens, incredible capabilities for autonomy can be generated.
Most pool controllers have the ability to interact with many mainstream home automation systems. This is in addition to their capability to interact with smart home devices like ‘learning’ thermostats such as Nest. For example, Nest knows when the homeowner is home or away based on sensors in the thermostat or programming by the user. When the homeowner leaves, the Nest connectivity allows homeowners to program an interaction with their backyard automation system to enable a particular theme. If for some reason the homeowner leaves and their water feature(s), heater, and pump remain running, the pool automation system will receive an alert from the thermostat, and the backyard would enable a ‘theme’ to turn off all of the equipment. It would also lower the heat and pump speed to save energy, which in turn saves the homeowner money. It takes all of the guesswork out of operating the backyard, as everything is done automatically.