Tracking windshield wiper activity can provide faster, more accurate rainfall data than radar and rain gauge systems currently in place, potentially helping predict and prevent flooding, according to a study.
Researchers at the University of Michigan in the US said that a community armed with that real-time data could move more quickly to prevent flash-flooding or sewage overflows, which represent a rising threat to property, infrastructure and the environment.
Coupled with "smart" storm-water systems -- infrastructure outfitted with autonomous sensors and valves -- municipalities could potentially take in data from connected vehicles to predict and prevent flooding, according to the study published in the journal Scientific Reports.
"These vehicles offer us a way to get rainfall information at resolutions we had not seen before," said Branko Kerkez, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
"It is more precise than radar, and allows us fill gaps left by existing rain gauge networks," Kerkez said.
Our best warnings for flood conditions come from the combination of radar tracking from satellites and rain gauges spread over a wide geographic area.
Both have poor spatial resolution, meaning they lack the ability to capture what is happening at street-level, researchers said.
"Radar has a spatial resolution of a quarter of a mile and a temporal resolution of 15 minutes," said Ram Vasudevan, an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.
"Wipers in contrast have a spatial resolution of a few feet and a temporal resolution of a few seconds which can make a huge difference when it comes to predicting flash flooding," Vasudevan said.
He said because of the sparseness of radar and rain gauge data, we do not have enough information about where rain is occurring or when it is occurring to reduce the consequences of flooding.
"If you have fine-grain predictions of where flooding occurs, you can control water networks efficiently and effectively to prevent all sorts of dangerous chemicals from appearing inside our water supply due to runoff," Vasudevan said.
Researchers said creating a blanket system of sensors across a city for street-level data on rain events would be costly.
By utilising connected vehicles, they are tapping a resource already in place now that will only grow larger in the future.
Researchers collected data from a set of 70 cars outfitted with sensors embedded in windshield wipers and dashboard cameras.
Kerkez and Vasudevan said their research represents a first step in creating a smart infrastructure system that is fed by and responds to data as it is collected from vehicles on the road.