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Stream Depth Gauge. Team: SDMAY 12-23. Team Members John Henderson Curt LaBarge Greg Pearson Yixin Qiao. Client/Advisor Steve Holland (ISU Canoe and Kayak Club). Project Goal. Design and build a low-cost stream depth gauge The gauge should be: Self contained

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Stream depth gauge

Stream Depth Gauge

Team: SDMAY 12-23

Team Members

John Henderson

Curt LaBarge

Greg Pearson

Yixin Qiao


Steve Holland

(ISU Canoe and Kayak Club)

Project goal
Project Goal

Design and build a low-cost stream depth gauge

The gauge should be:

  • Self contained

  • Robust in the environment

  • Low maintenance

  • Low power

  • Capable of transmitting measurements wirelessly



Iowa flow levels change dramatically

  • Current gauging strategies are inadequate

    • High Maintenance

    • At threat of cancelation

    • Cover a limited amount of streams and rivers

  • Canoers and Kayakers need easy access to flow data to accurately plan trips

  • Some waterways are currently not monitored

Photo Credits: ISU Canoe and Kayak Club


United states geological survey
United States Geological Survey


  • $5,000/yr to maintain

    Complex Design

  • Stilling basin

  • Two story structure

  • Under ground pipes

  • Electronic recorder

Typical USGS Gauge Design

Photo Credit: USGS


Functional specifications
Functional Specifications

  • Total Price of Materials < $500

  • Measurement Accuracy: 1inch

  • Operating Temp: -5°C to 70°C

  • Survivable Temp: -40°C to 70°C

  • Daily data transmission

  • Power save during winter


Weather conditions
Weather Conditions

Our design must withstand the following:

High Winds






Photo Credits last slide

River conditions
River Conditions

  • Any object placed directly in body of water must withstand the following conditions:

Ice formations

Other Floating debris


Photo Credits last slide

Non functional specifications
Non Functional Specifications

  • Low maintenance cost

  • Long battery life

    • Minimum: 1 yr

  • Rugged design


Sensor options
Sensor Options

Possible Choices:

  • Ultrasonic range sensor

  • Float System

  • Water Pressure Sensor

  • Air Pressure Sensor

    • Absolute

    • Differential


Sensor options1
Sensor Options

  • List of Choices:

    • Ultrasonic range sensor

    • Basic Float System–Moving parts easily break!

    • Water Pressure Sensor - Too expensive !

    • Air Pressure Sensor

      • Absolute – Not as simple as differential option

      • Differential


Sensor options2
Sensor Options


Choosing a sensor
Choosing a Sensor

Best option: Differential Air Pressure Sensor

  • Why?

    • The sensor costs 1/10th of the ultrasonic sensor

    • Can be placed underwater instead of above it

    • Could be buried under sand

      • Sand can be used to protect the sensor

    • Leaves the team with more installation options and configurations


Under water housing concept and design
Under Water HousingConcept and Design

  • Water level is proportional to air pressure inside cylinder

  • As water depth over cylinder increases, so does air pressure

  • Housing and tubing buried under a sand bank for added protection against floating debris


Tube to Pressure Sensor


Concept diagram


Concept Diagram


Pressure Sensor

Cell Module


Voltage Regulator

Voltage Regulator

Voltage Regulator

Power Bus


Solar Cell

Charging Circuit


Concept diagram1
Concept Diagram



  • The team will use the ATMega128

  • Why

    • Past experience

    • Can talk directly to cell modem through UART

  • State machine style in our programming

    • will greatly help out in our debugging phase


Cell module
Cell Module

  • Pros:

    • Easy to use

    • Commands given through UART

  • Cons:

    • Poor signal strength

      • We will choose a testing location based off of this

    • Prepaid Billing

      • The more we test, the more we pay



  • Cell Module will “text” the ISU Canoe and Kayak Club with measurements

    • Measurements will occur once per day

  • Microcontroller will:

    • Take pressure sensor reading

    • Convert pressure reading into water depth

    • Send data to cell module for transmission through UART


Power circuit
Power Circuit

  • Determines the success of our project

    • Must be designed to keep system powered for an entire year

    • All components should contain as low leakage current as possible

  • Foreseen issues we are currently dealing with

    • Snow build up on solar cell

    • Battery failure due to cold weather

    • Strict power budget


Power circuit hardware
Power Circuit Hardware

  • Power Circuit will consist of

    • 5 Watt solar cell

    • 2 6V Lead Acid Batteries

      • Charging circuit

    • 3 Voltage regulators will be used to keep Microcontroller and Cell Module’s input voltage constant


Power budget
Power Budget


Past accomplishments
Past Accomplishments

  • Extensive research on:

    • Possible Environmental Conditions

    • Different options for measuring water height

    • Power Requirements

  • We have purchased the following:

    • Microcontroller

    • Pressure Sensor

    • Cell Module

    • Under-water tubing

    • AT&T SIM Card

    • Solar Cells and Battery


Current tasks
Current Tasks

  • Test individual components such as:

    • Cell Module

    • Microcontroller

      • Waiting for Evaluation board

    • Pressure Sensor

  • Designing power system

    • Choosing components based off of 5Watt power budget


Future tasks
Future Tasks

  • Test Power System Components

  • Construct Under Water Housing component

  • Program microcontroller and cell module

  • Put system together

  • Create working prototype by spring thaw

  • Upon Spring Thaw:

    • We will field test our prototype in a local stream


Testing requirements
Testing Requirements

  • Our team will test the following:

    • Accuracy of water height measurement

    • Air leakage in under water housing unit and tube

    • Power Management

      • Can solar cell keep system charged up for a year?

    • Wireless signals

    • Max and Min operating temperatures

    • Overall ruggedness of system

      • Will the system hold up to extreme weather conditions such as rain, snow, hail, wind?


Project status
Project Status

  • Microcontroller and Cell Module have arrived

  • Power Components have been ordered

  • Under water housing has been designed and will be built in the coming weeks

  • Software implementation has been researched and test code is currently under development


Main goal
Main Goal

  • The team is working hard to complete a working prototype by spring thaw

    • This goal has been set by our advisor who has stressed this goal since day one

    • Field testing our system is vital and will be used to point out any weaknesses our system might have that controlled testing could not.


Questions ?

Brief Summary

  • Stream depth gauge

  • Components

    • Pressure sensor

    • Microcontroller

    • Cell Module

    • Power Circuitry

  • Major Tasks

    • Implement code

    • Build prototype by spring thaw








Image sources
Image Sources

  • “High Winds”

  • “Rain"

  • “Floods”

  • “Snow”,_Varmland,_Sweden.htm

  • “Ice”

  • “Ice Formations”

  • “Other Floating Debris”

  • All other images were taken from Microsoft Office Clip Art