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‘Alexa, Control My Pool’

Pentair automation ties to several devices

Pentair’s ScreenLogic interface allows automation through all kinds of devices — the newest being the Amazon Echo — a tower-looking device named Alexa that answers verbal questions and takes commands, among many other tricks — and Apple Watch.

David MacCallum, product manager for lights, automation and Acu-Trol at Pentair, is explaining to me how he taught his four-year-old son to ask Alexa to turn on their pool slide, which causes him to accidentally trigger the Amazon Echo in his home office. I can hear it responding to him in the background of our phone call — so he continues to demonstrate how it works.

“Alexa, ask Pentair what my pool temperature is,” MacCallum says.
“Your backyard pool is currently 75 degrees,” Alexa responds.
“Alexa, ask Pentair what my pH level is,” MacCallum says.
“Your backyard pool pH level is 7.57,” Alexa responds.

“If something’s going to be done, customers look to us to do it first,” says MacCallum, whose company first launched its IntelliTouch automation system in 2003. “Pentair had the PDA interfaces back in 2005 and the Wi-Fi tablet interfaces before anybody. We’re a very technology-savvy bunch in the automation group. We’re given the freedom to do some of these cool things.”

Customers with an Apple Watch can see their pool temperature, heat source, pH and ORP levels by simply looking at the watch face.

“Within half a second, I get an update — everything I want to know about my pool — and I’m done,” MacCallum says, “instead of pulling my iPhone out of my pocket, finding the app, launching it, connecting remotely and diving down into the menus and coming back to the top and diving into another menu. It just makes it so much easier and convenient.”

It doesn’t matter whether pool builders and service companies are comfortable with automation technology and the devices used to control it. MacCallum says it’s what the consumers want and expect, and companies that drag their feet are facing a harsh reality.

“They’re quickly learning they’re not winning the jobs their competitors are winning,” MacCallum says. “Their competitor is pushing crystal-clear water through chemical-control systems tied to automation that you can control with your iPhone from anywhere in the world and get alerts when something’s wrong.”

He’s seen savvy builders capitalize on their automation offerings by giving customers an Amazon Echo ($180), the smaller Echo Dot ($60) or even an iPad Mini ($400) as their “pool controller” when they close on their new pool build.

Tony Caciolo, a high-end pool builder in Pennsylvania, adds Pentair’s automation in some form to all pools he builds. His customers are often out of town and like knowing someone is keeping an eye on their pool.

“I remotely monitor all my customers pools in a big screen in my office,” Caciolo says. “If there’s a problem, they can get notified automatically that there might be a Nerf ball stuck in their skimmer.”

Caciolo says the device integrations Pentair offers isn’t a feature his customers are asking for yet, “but when I tell them about it, they can’t live without it.”

He gives his customers an iPad Mini as their pool controller. “Some customers will say, ‘I already have one; I don’t need that,’ ” Caciolo says. “But that doesn’t happen too often, because people always want the extra iPad. They put it on the kitchen counter, we have a little stand for them, and that’s their control system for the pool.”

It makes a huge impression, MacCallum says. “This type of technology, connecting through whatever smart device you have locally or remotely, is not going to be an add-on you have to purchase,” MacCallum says. “That’s just going to be a part of the system whether you want it or not. That’s where it’s going.”

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