A rain gauge that sends rainfall data to ‘the cloud’ in real time could transform the way climate data is collected.

That is according to James Cook University (JCU) professor Wei Xiang who has been working in conjunction with CSIRO to develop the gauge.

Professor Xiang said the gauge used wireless connectivity to send information, making the need for a data logger unnecessary.

Interaction between devices is known as the Internet of Things (IoT) and can be used to connect household appliances, cars, and smartphones to each other.

“The problem with using the traditional rain gauge is that firstly, you don’t have real-time access to the data and secondly, it is very expensive if you want to record high resolution data,” Professor Xiang said.

“This is very cost effective [because] we do away with a statistician or a data logger.

“All you need is a very cheap Internet of Things wireless transceiver to send the data to the cloud.”

Cloud gauge could be game changer for farmers

Checking and emptying the rain gauge is a daily job for North Queensland farmer Paul Mizzi.

With properties spread across the Hinchinbrook Shire, Mr Mizzi’s simple job can take an hour out of his day and during the wet season, he often can not reach gauges in some paddocks for days.

For farmers like him, JCU’s high-tech rain gauge could be a game changer — allowing them to make more accurate decisions about their operations from the comfort of their home.

“A lot of times a contractor will have a tin perched on his fuel trailer or something like that and he uses that to gather how much rain he is actually getting,” Mr Mizzi said.

“But he only gets that information once he gets there and he records it.

“I’m hoping we could get more accurate information for when we are harvesting, so we know exactly what’s going on before we actually get out there.”

Mr Mizzi said he was keen to see the outcome of the trials and would consider upgrading to that kind of gauge on his properties.

Internet of Things empowers agriculture, citizen scientists

The high-tech rain gauge has been developed over six months and is being tested in Innisfail in north Queensland, one of Australia’s wettest regions.

It is expected the device will be able to collect and transmit data even in remote or inaccessible locations.

Professor Xiang said the low cost of the technology made high-resolution rainfall data affordable for farmers and citizen scientists.

“A rain gauge sensor used to be exclusive to scientific research staff, but now with our new prototype, everybody can do that,” he said.

James Cook University’s Internet of Things engineering degree was the first in Australia to specialise in IoT.

Professor Xiang said the department was very focussed on developing technologies that were potentially useful.

“Overall the IoT is very applied research, which means everything we do, we want to have an impact on society, on industry, on the community,” Professor Xiang said.

“We want to see people using our technology to see the real benefits and this rain gauge is just one of the examples.”

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