AI News, Cars Could Become Flood Predictors

Cars Could Become Flood Predictors

If you often feel that your morning commute in the car is wasted time, a new initiative out of Germany could transform your daily drive into a citizen science experiment that may help predict localized floods and droughts with more precision.

Although there are far more measurement variables to account for with a moving car than with a stationary rain gauge, the multitude of cars on the road could ultimately provide better accuracy at a hyper-local level.

Earlier research had shown that data from the wiper speed on many cars—which is an indication of rainfall rate—could provide better measurements of spatial precipitation than a handful of very accurate devices.

“The value of using moving cars to measure rainfall is not about a higher accuracy of rainfall measurements,” said Haberlandt, “but about a much higher number of measurement points.” In Germany alone there are more than 40 million cars on the road.

As the front windshield was covered with water, a person sitting inside the car adjusted the speed of the windshield wipers to maintain visibility from the front windshield.

Scientists equipped cars with optical sensors that automatically adjust the speed of the wipers according to the amount of rain accumulated on the sensor, along with a device that recorded data from the sensor to test the idea of RainCars.

Credit: Ehsan Rabiei.So, the team equipped the car with optical sensors that automatically adjusted the speed of the wipers according to the amount of rain accumulated on the sensor, along with a device that recorded data from the sensor.

Still, he says, previous research shows that rainfall estimates based on abundant, albeit less precise, measurements would provide a more accurate portrayal of rainfall over a large area than measurements taken by relatively few sophisticated rain gauges.

Considering that such sensors can provide readings every 10 seconds and that Germany has more than 40 million cars and 75,000 buses on its roads, modern vehicles could provide unprecedented amounts of rain data.

“It would give us rain information in areas where we already have good coverage from ground-based radars, but not much from rural areas, hills and mountains and underdeveloped areas of the world,” says Robert Adler, a senior research scientist at the Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center at the University of Maryland at College Park.

Using moving cars to measure rainfall

'If moving cars could be used to measure rainfall the network density could be improved dramatically,' explains project-leader Uwe Haberlandt, who says the idea for RainCars emerged during a brainstorming session between geoinformatics researchers and hydrologists.

They placed cars with different wiper systems under the rain machine, which uses a sprinkler irrigation system with adjustable nozzles to simulate light to heavy rain, to find out exactly how wiper speed relates to rainfall intensity.

'The optical sensors measure the rain on the windshield in a more direct and continuous manner so, currently, they would be the better choice for rain sensors in cars,' says Haberlandt.

The team could also test the effects of car movement on the measurements by placing the sensors on a rotating device, which simulates car speed, under the rain simulator.

In a Hydrology and Earth System Sciences study published in 2010, two of the team members showed that a high number of less accurate rain gauges gives more reliable rainfall readings than a low number of very accurate devices.

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A simple observation inspired researchers from the University of Hanover in Germany to come up with 'rain cars' that could help in tracking the amount of rainfall year to year.

The project team tested their idea using a sprinkler system that aimed water at a stationery car at known output rates.

So, the team conducted another set of experiments, this time using the optical sensors that many newer cars come fitted with to automate wipers.

'The optical sensors measure the rain on the windshield in a more direct and continuous manner so, currently, they would be the better choice for rain sensors in cars,' Haberlandt said.

In nature there are external effects like wind, spray from other cars or shielding trees that can affect the readings, and rainfall characteristics are different from the rain simulator,' said Rabiei, a team member and lead author.

However, Haberlandt calrified that it is more important to have a higher number of measurement points than higher accuracy to get more reliable rainfall readings - and this innovation should raise those measurement points significantly.

Rainy-day Drivers Become Precipitation Gauges

German scientists plan to use moving vehicles to measure precipitation on rainy days, after noticing that drivers control the speed of their windshield wipers according to the intensity of rainfall—faster for heavy rain and slower for light rain or drizzle.

The scientists said that while standard rain gauges can provide accurate measurements, some parts of the world may have very few of these gauges in place and those they do have are spread out over a large area.

As a result, the measurements made by the rain gauges aren’t able provide the detailed information that would reflect that variation, information that could be vital to help predict and prevent flooding.

They placed cars equipped with different types of windshield wiper systems, into their rain simulator to determine the relationship between wiper speed and rainfall intensity.

Moving on to their next rain simulator experiment, the researchers tested optical sensors used by some new wiper systems that allow the systems to operate automatically.

study published in 2010 by two members of the team showed that a system using a higher number of gauges that perhaps weren’t so accurate still provided more reliable rainfall readings than one that used a smaller number of much more accurate gauges.

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