Innovation to protect from catastrophic flooding on display at SWSXEDU

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — New technology on display this week at South by Southwest EDU not only highlights the need for STEM Education, but it could also help homeowners when catastrophic flooding hits Texas again. 

Fab Lab is participating in the conference and festival focused on innovative education. It offers hands-on STEM experiences. The lab also demonstrates a sensor that can warn people about rapidly rising lake levels.

“We didn’t know we needed it until we needed it,” Brent Richardson, BakerRipley Fab Lab Developer, said about the sensor. 

Richardson lives in Houston, and in 2017, he experienced the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

“It was really surprising how fast the water rose after the hurricane and how much water it was,” he said. “It rained over 50 inches.”

Richardson explained waist deep water surrounded his own home, and his in-laws’ house had three or four feet of water in it. “It started coming in the house at night. They had water up to their street, but never in their house, so no one thought it was really going to affect them.”

He said the floodwater brought with it sediment and wherever that sand deposited, sandbars formed. That pooled the water in one area, making the flooding worse.

According to Richardson, Lake Houston has three sensors, but because they are far apart, all three showed different measurements. That made it difficult for homeowners near the lake to know how they would be affected by the flooding. 

So Richardson created an easy-to-make sensor that uses 3D printing technology and soldering that people can install to monitor lake levels near their homes. 

“Providing more information and really making people aware,” Richardson said. “And provide additional resources they can use to inform decisions in the future.”

The ultra sonic sensor uses your home wi-fi, and as it detects rising water levels, the sensor’s propellers turn blue. As the water recedes, they turn white. 

He said anyone can learn the basics of these science and engineering concepts to solve problems in their lives. 

“Projects like this create a real personal connection for people. Really anyone in Houston, they can see value in it.”

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