We innovate the way rainfall is measured at the ground by opening a new technological avenue toward the adoption of low cost optical sensors for quantitative rain rate monitoring.

The product is meant to respond to the need of mapping rainfall at the ground in real-time at high spatial and temporal resolution. Capturing rainfall patterns with adequate spatial and temporal resolution is currently prevented by the sparseness of terrestrial rain-gauging networks and by the coarse resolution of both weather radar and satellite images.

Meeting the growing need for actionable hydrological information using increasingly efficient technologies does represent the main avenue toward a high return on investment in managing water resources to ensure collective water security. Water for food production already accounts for about 70% of global freshwater withdrawals. Estimates show that 45% more agricultural water will be required by 2030 to feed 8 billion people.

Our project investigates the technical and economic viability of a novel solution for monitoring rain at the ground.

The technique is called SmartRain: an image-processing technology for measuring rainfall intensity from images registered during rain events. The system is designed for being composed by i) a hardware module for acquiring images during rain events and either processing or sending them to a cloud-based service; ii) a software module (i.e., the SmartRain algorithm) which stores and processes the registered images to derive quantitative rain rate measures.

The SmartRain processing algorithm lends itself to being exported to – dedicated or not – low-cost cameras and to personal user devices (as, e.g., smartphones), importantly reducing the costs associated to measures. Incentivizing citizen participation in rain monitoring will also improve their awareness against severe rain events.

The SmartRain algorithm is patent pending since January 2015; an experimental proof of concept of the technology is presented by [1].

[1] Allamano, Croci, Laio: Toward the camera rain gauge, Water Resour. Res. 51 (3), 2015

Objectives and beneficiaries

The far-reaching objective of this project is to integrate traditional at-ground rain gauging systems with optical low cost systems, with the ultimate aim of improving the spatial resolution of the current terrestrial rain-gauging networks and their capacity to map rainfall patterns at the ground.

Our proposition stands in the capacity to offer a rain gauging service achieving resolutions up to ten times greater than traditional rain gauging networks at an overall comparable cost.

The need for widespread at-ground rain gauging systems emerges, among others, from the agricultural market, which is rapidly drifting towards the precision farming model. Making real-time rain rate measures available at high spatial and temporal resolution enhances the sustainability of agricultural practices by prompting a wiser use of the available water resource and parsimonious applications of phytosanitary products.

Increasing the number of nodes of traditional rain-gauging networks (e.g., by an order of magnitude) would also enable the implementation of optimal stormwater management strategies; improve the safety of transport infrastructures; reduce the costs associated with the damages caused by un-managed urban events and the vulnerability of the elements at risk.

Strong points of the practice

The strength of the practice is related to its economic, environmental and social implications.

The SmartRain solution:
i) brings to the market an innovative and creative solution for water resources management in agriculture and/or urban areas;
ii) fosters the EU technological leadership by developing a new world standard for rain monitoring;
iii) boosts the competitiveness and growth of the European market for technologies to adapt to climate change;
iv) demonstrates the potential of an innovative water solution in the real environment, with a focus on monitoring and decision support systems;
v) lends itself to being ported to personal user devices (as, e.g., smartphones) hence improving citizen awareness against severe weather events.

Expected results and benefits for climate change adaptation and mitigation

Agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change.
Higher temperatures eventually reduce yields of desirable crops while encouraging weed and pest proliferation.
Changes in precipitation patterns increase the likelihood of short-run crop failures and long-run production declines.

Since the costs for repairing damages are estimated to be about 6 times higher than the cost of adaptation, the market for technologies to adapt to climate change is rapidly growing in Europe and worldwide.

The SmartRain solution responds to the challenge for climate change adaptation since it allows for a wiser allocation of water resources and a prompt response to destructive rainstorm events.

Replicability potential of the practice

SmartRain is conceived to be replicable in different contexts and for different applications:

1) The system allows the deployment of low-cost rain gauging networks for precision farming applications (e.g., optimal water allocation);
2) The system can be ported on existing imaging devices (e.g., non dedicated IP camera networks), making it suitable for real-time rain rate monitoring in urban areas or along transport infrastructures;
3) In the future, a mobile app will enable citizens to take the pictures with their phones and to take part to the construction of a global “open rain map”.

[Editor's Note: All information published as submitted by the author(s). Minor edits may have been made to increase readability and understanding.]