DCU develops ‘affordable’ sensor to protect against flooding

14 Mar 2016

Dublin during a heavy rain, via Public Domain

Dublin’s drive towards smart city status continues as DCU develops a new “affordable” sensor to warn against flooding.

The creation of a network that supports anything close to a smart cities concept needs an awful lot of parties working towards a technological goal. It also needs everybody involved to accept that the goal in question is hard to pin down.

For anyone confused by the above, the short version is sensors. For a smart city, sensors need to be created. In bulk. Sensors for traffic flow, water flow, energy flow, wind flow, people flow. Sensors, sensors, sensors.

What they do, what they will do and how we manage the data extrapolated from sensors might change. But the need for as many sensors as possible seems to be the accepted norm.

With that, the latest development from DCU’s Smart Cities programme brings us to flooding. Along with Kingspan, DCU’s Water Institute has developed “an affordable smart sensor network” that can monitor and warn against flooding.

The creators call the technology “groundbreaking”, with a complementary app warning people when river levels reach a certain height. It can even text local business owners or residents so they can prepare as early as possible.

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This isn’t a world first though, not even nearly. Buenos Aires officials acted as far back as 2013, after 101 people died through flooding. As Forbes noted last year, there was a subsequent priority to create a network of sensors that measured the direction and speed of water flowing through the city, identifying areas that need attention in real-time.

“It’s telling that in 2014 the city went flood free, while neighbouring areas got soaked. Here we see how the smart city mindset brings simple, contextual solutions to serious problems,” explains Forbes.

Despite it not being a first, creating an effective and affordable Ireland alternative is telling. Dotted along the Dodder in Dublin, the data generated by the Kingspan-built sensors is being analysed at DCU, with the affordability leading to the potential of scale.

Dublin City Council’s smart  city lead, Jamie Cudden, likes what he sees so far, saying the project is the “perfect smart city collaboration”, with the council’s flooding engineers part of the set up “to experiment and test a low-cost flood monitoring solution that is fraction of the price of currently available equipment”.

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic