Rice engineering students focus on floods

As we know in Houston, it doesn't take a hurricane for the city to flood and since floods happen here often enough, a group of future engineers from Rice Univerisity are working on a way to track a flooding event in real time.

"The project started about a year and a half ago," said Gary Woods, a Rice professor in the practice of computer technology and electrical and computer engineering. Woods is serving as advisor to the senior members of the team; those members include Alexandra Du, Alex Kaplan, Neil Seoni, Alfonso Morera and Kevin Wu.

Among the group, Alexandra Wu knows what it's like for a city, like Houston, to flood. Afterall, her family weathered hurricane Harvey from Cinco Ranch while Wu stayed at Rice.

“We didn’t have a home for 3 months so it’s a very personal type of project," said Du.

The students have developed a set of wireless stations that communicate with a base to report on flooding at thier locations. The stations have several components: A solar-powered wireless transmitter that can ride high atop a utility pole, with a rubber conduit that stretches down the side and connects the station to a water-level rain gauge and pressure sensor, and software deveolped by students that gathers data sent by the remote stations and reports what they see.

“The vision of the project is to be able to see these deployed in neighborhoods around Houston,” said Du.

Sure high water sensors can be found all over the country, but they're in areas where we see water runoff, like rivers or bayous. The hope is these sensors can be deployed to a specific community, even at street level to detect water level rises.

“We’d love to see it used into emergency and disaster response,” said Du. “People can get notifications on their phone,” Du said, "and the data can be incorporated into your navigation to not turn onto a road that’s flooded.”

Du and fellow senior Kevin Wu have already met with Houston city leaders to discuss future ways to implement these sensors in flood prone regions.

Woods said there's no reason this proof-of-concept can't be scaled up. "Houston might want to have thousands of these," said Woods. "This is all based on 'internet of things' technology, which is getting cheaper all the time.

Right now, only a few of these sensors have been deployed on Rice's campus and are regularly collecting data.