Windshield wipers have been put to a more high-tech use by University of Michigan (U-M) researchers. An Ann Arbor test fleet 70 vehicles strong, tracked exactly when their wipers were in use with embedded sensors, and coordinated the results with a dashboard camera to record rainfall.
“They found that tracking windshield wiper activity can provide faster, more accurate rainfall data than the radar and rain gauge systems we currently have in place,” according to the U-M.
Armed with connected windshield wipers, the community would be providing real-time data as they drive. By adding “smart” storm water systems (infrastructure with autonomous valves and sensors) into the mix, local buildings could gather the connected car data to better foretell and avoid flash flooding and sewage overflows.
“These vehicles offer us a way to get rainfall information at resolutions we’d not seen before,” says Branko Kerkez, U-M assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering. “It’s more precise than radar, and allows us to fill gaps left by existing rain gauge networks.”
As both the U-M and Kerkez has mentioned, the system boasts an advantage over the conventionally used radar, which utilizes satellites and rain gauges over a wide area to provide flood condition warnings. However, when working with a large geographic region, street-level accuracy (spatial resolution) suffers.
“Radar has a spatial resolution of a quarter of a mile and a temporal resolution of 15 minutes,” says Ram Vasudevan, U-M assistant professor of mechanical engineering. “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 predicting flash flooding.”
“Because of the sparseness of radar and rain gauge data, we don’t have enough information about where rain is occurring or when it’s occurring to reduce the consequences of flooding,” Vasudevan continues. “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.”
An entire street-level sensor system would be a costly endeavor, which is why the U-M connected vehicle approach may tap into a potential solution.
The Ann Arbor test fleet program was dubbed Safety Pilot, and represented the “world’s largest connected vehicle test program with roughly 3,000 participants. It continues, and is now the Ann Arbor Connected Vehicle Test Environment,” according to the U-M. Although the researchers have created a link between rainfall and vehicles, they admit more work must be done to refine communication with smart infrastructure systems.
The study can be found in the article, “Windshield wipers on connected vehicles produce high-accuracy rainfall maps,” published in Scientific Reports.