Austin middle schoolers design innovative flood sensor

Device was designed by middle schoolers (Dugan/KXAN)
Device was designed by middle schoolers (Dugan/KXAN)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Growing up near Bull Creek, Laya Yalamanchili and Satvik Dasari know how fierce flood waters can take lives. The Canyon Vista Middle School students have developed a new flood gauge that will help first responders save lives.

“It made us very sad to see that have happened. It’s so close, it could have happened to any of us. It could have even been us. We were compelled to do something,” says Yalamanchili.

“We wanted to create a device to save lives and lower the fatalities of drowning while driving,” adds Dasari.

For their school science fair, the two developed HydroAlert, an innovative flood warning sensor. The device shoots an ultrasonic sensor into the surface of Bull Creek, measuring how far it currently sits from the road. The data is then uploaded to the HydroAlert app–which the students also designed–every 15 seconds. LED lights on the device changes colors (green, yellow or red) depending on how close the water is getting to the roadway.

Their project caught the eye of Austin Watershed and the Austin Fire Department. The agencies want to study how the device would inform first responders in real-world conditions.

“They thought it would be useful for them to see the real-time data. When they would have to go to those places, they don’t have real-time data to do this. So, they would have to put rocks and mark the spot where the creek was and it was dangerous work because they have to get so close to the rapids,” explains Yalamanchili.

Devices currently being used can cost tens of thousands of dollars, making it pricey to install them at multiple locations. HydroAlert costs less than $100 to build. They’re hoping this science fair project leads to even more life-saving capabilities.

“We decided maybe we can start a non-profit or something and get this to a lot of places that need it,” says Yalamanchili. “I’d like to see having the device be deployed at other places–just like in Texas in general. Save a lot of people’s lives,” says an enthusiastic Dasari.

The sensor is being used by Austin Watershed and AFD (Dugan/KXAN)
The sensor is being used by Austin Watershed and AFD (Dugan/KXAN)

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