How Industrial IoT sensors are used to monitor water levels and flood warning systems: A guide

Edward Pultar is an engineer at who loves monitoring water, air, and Industrial IoT sensor applications. He’s worked at Google and universities in the states and Europe teaching GIS, a.k.a., Geographic Information Systems and Science. Edward is grateful to be a recipient of a GIS scholar award funded by Esri founders Jack & Laura Dangermond, in order to complete a PhD in Geography at University of California, Santa Barbara, with advisors like Mike Goodchild, 1 of the “fathers of GIS”. Edward started Valarm in 2011 with his brother and friends.

You may already realise that water is an everyday critical resource for you and your family. Plenty of headlines about on how we get too much water or too little – flooding and drought. But how do water monitoring systems help you, your teams, and your organisation to save water, your time, your money, and potentially lives?

Here, we will give you inside details about case studies where smart cities in coastal areas have deployed flood warning systems with Industrial IoT sensors, how the sensors technologies work and how they are deployed, as well as challenges for using them in practice.

Case studies and examples of water level sensor technologies: Which do you use?

Your first challenge is to decide which sensor technology makes the most sense to monitor water for your geospatial application. Common level sensor technologies include ultrasonic, guided wave radar, and pressure transducers. There are pros and cons to each type, depending on the geography where you’re measuring.

For example, pressure transducers are typically less expensive than radar level sensors. However, pressure transducers need to be submerged and touching the water or fluids you’re monitoring, while radar and ultrasonic level transmitters are non-contact and are deployed above what you’re monitoring.

Radar level sensors can penetrate things that might be on top of a fluid you’re monitoring, like foam, which may make radar appropriate for your scenario. As a result, you will likely be deploying a combination of sensor technologies. In our experiences, this is one of many reasons why maintaining an open, flexible platform is critical for successes with your projects.

Spatial is special: Which geospatial technologies do you use?

You probably already know that spatial is special. Location is critical for water monitoring systems, especially when we’re talking about early warning systems and flood level monitoring. For that reason, we recommend including GPS and GNSS sensors with each monitoring system – especially since these remote monitoring systems are rapidly deployable and can be moved from one location to another so you will need to know precise, accurate locations at all times. This also allows for easy, seamless integration with geospatial software platforms like GIS.

Speaking of which, once your remote monitoring systems have gathered sensor measurements, how do you integrate them with your geospatial software like GIS? Some GIS’, like the Esri ArcGIS platform, make it easier for you to integrate real-time sensor information with offerings like GeoEvent and ArcGIS Online. Typically, your geo-aware software will readily accept and acknowledge location-based sensor readings that are geo-tagged with technologies like GPS/GNSS.

You and your geospatial team are likely prepared to integrate an additional geo-data source – Industrial IoT sensor measurements in this case, which won’t be a significant challenge if you’ve followed advice from this article. From there, once your IoT sensors are integrated with your favourite software tools like GIS, then based on your specific project needs you will configure your usual geo-statistics, alerts, geo-fences, 2D and 3D maps, geospatial analytics, visualisations, record keeping, management… and so on, all done to your liking and particular tastes.

Internet connectivity and power struggles – the many roles of IoT

You will also need to choose which internet connectivity and electric power sources are most appropriate for each scenario. These two topics of internet and power are interrelated, especially in the case of Power over Ethernet (PoE). PoE simply means you’ve got an easy 2-in-1 solution for electrical juice and internet connectivity.

While this is a viable option for many Industrial IoT device deployments, like stationary tank level and volume monitoring, sometimes you’ve got to go wireless or use renewable energy sources like solar panel power. In our experiences, solar panel power comes in quite handy for monitoring systems with Industrial IoT sensors. Depending on the location – for instance, sunny southern California versus cloudier Pennsylvania – you may need 20W solar panels for some deployments, while 80W panels are more appropriate for each monitoring system in other scenarios.

Above: The author (right) with fellow co-founder Lorenzo Gonzalez

With your standard solar charge controllers and backup batteries like sealed lead acid (SLA), your remote monitoring systems will be good to go and stay alive indefinitely.

If you’ve deployed your Industrial IoT systems properly, you will just need to check out your battery health, keeping an eye on it remotely with your IoT cloud software, and potentially replace your batteries every couple of years or so.

Wireless internet connectivity comes in many flavours for monitoring your Internet of Things applications. Your sensor measurements can be uploaded to cloud databases and IoT portals via standard Wi-Fi like IEEE 802.11, M2M and IoT machine networks, such as Ingenu, Sigfox, and LoRa. If mobile cell networks such as GSM, 3G/4G, and LTE are readily available in your deployment area, then that can be a quick and easy way to rapidly deploy IoT sensor monitoring systems. Depending on the area that your deployment covers, there are pros and cons to each of your options for wireless internet technologies.

For example, you, your teams and your organisation will make the decision for what makes the most sense for your power sources and internet connectivity for each monitoring system, which will likely be a combination of the various options you have got, depending on factors such as size, cost/price, maintenance, weather, availability, staff, and time. Each monitoring deployment has its unique factors you will need to take into account, so you will likely have additional factors.

In our experiences, working closely with the customer each step of the way ensures that the Industrial IoT/telemetry monitoring systems will help our customers to save their time, money, and safety while improving business operations that make the organisation run more effectively.

Editor's note: You can find out more at in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.

The show is co-located with the AI & Big Data Expo, Cyber Security & Cloud Expo and Blockchain Expo so you can explore the entire ecosystem in one place.

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