Kinder Institute announces 2018 Houston Solutions Lab funding

Rice University’s Houston Solutions Lab today announced funding to support three projects focusing on flooding issues and a sustainability plan for the city’s fleet of vehicles.

HoustonThe Houston Solutions Lab connects Rice researchers with leaders in numerous city of Houston departments to formulate mutually beneficial research. This is the second year monetary awards have been given to researchers. Awards are given to projects that offer a definitive solution to a city-identified problem.

“This program is a great way to connect researchers from across Rice to the City of Houston with the goal of them using their expertise to tackle pressing, concrete problems,” said Kyle Shelton, director of strategic partnerships at the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, one of three supporting sponsors along with Rice’s Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology and the Office of Research.

Street-level flood measurement

Gary Woods, a professor in the practice of computer technology at Rice; Leonardo Duenas Osorio, an associate professor in civil and environmental engineering; Frank Yong Li, a visiting professor in electrical and computer engineering; and Devika Subramanian, a professor of computer science, will work on a project that will develop flood sensors that will be deployed and piloted on Rice’s campus for street level measurements and have their data relayed to a central server.

The ultimate goal of the piloted array is to collect flood level data in real-time for neighborhood streets, which can be used not only to aid evacuation and transportation in storms, but also used to refine models for future flooding. The researchers will work in conjunction with Steve Costello, Houston’s chief resiliency officer, to make sure the sensor platform is robust and meets requirements for broader city deployment.

Surveys on flooding

Bob Stein, the Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of Political Science, and Rick Wilson, the Herbert S. Autrey Professor of Political Science, will work with Costello on two flood-related projects.

The first project will be a survey of Houston Fire Department stations to learn where first responders encounter high water during storms. Like the street-level flood measurement project, this work will help refine future models.

For the second project, the team will work with Costello to conduct a satisfaction survey among residents who live near Storm Water Action Team (SWAT) projects recently completed to improve drainage and mitigate future flooding. The ultimate goal is to find out if residents perceived the SWAT projects to be effective.

Sustainable city vehicles

Dan Cohan, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Laura Schaefer, the Burton J. and Ann M. McMurtry Chair in Engineering, will work on the sustainability of the city’s vehicle fleet.

The researchers will examine a variety of fleet and fuel options and offer research that will help the city determine which systems it should implement based on cost and logistics, environmental impact and several other factors. They will work with Lara Cottingham, who directs Houston’s sustainability efforts, to ensure that city needs and time lines are met.

Work on these projects will begin in August and continue for one year.

“We are excited to partner with the Houston Solutions Lab and this year’s projects,” said Jan E. Odegard, executive director Ken Kennedy Institute and associate vice president research computing. “With Rice being a microcosm of Houston, we find it to be a win-win to develop ‘Smart-Rice’ as a digital platform where we can encourage innovation that can leverage Rice expertise and existing campus technology.”

Rice’s Houston Solutions Lab is part of the MetroLab Network, a national network of city-university research partnerships, all of which have the goal of leveraging academic expertise to help solve critical issues facing cities. Funding for the projects comes from three Rice entities: the Kinder Institute for Urban Research, the Office of Research and the Ken Kennedy Institute.

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About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.