The team networked a small test fleet of cars in Ann Arbor so that it could track where the cars were and if they had their wipers on; cameras were also added so the team could see and gauge rainfall. The engineers tracked when wipers were being used, matching that data with video from onboard cameras to document rainfall. They found that tracking windshield wiper activity can provide faster, more accurate rainfall data than radar and rain gauges currently in place.
Water departments and city managers armed with such real-time data could move more quickly to prevent flash-flooding or sewage overflows and make better use of “smart” storm water systems outfitted with autonomous sensor and valves. Local flooding represents a rising threat to property, infrastructure, and the environment.
“Networked vehicles such as these offer a way to get rainfall information at resolutions we’d not seen before,” says Branko Kerkez, a UM engineering professor. “It’s more precise than radar and lets us fills gaps in existing rain gauge networks.”
The best current warnings for flood conditions come from the combination of satellite radar tracking and rain gauges spread over a wide geographic area. Both have poor spatial resolution, meaning they cannot capture what’s happening at street level.