An embedded-sensors engineer who helps keep the city above water


For some dedicated researchers, even a global pandemic can't halt the progress of science and technology. That’s how Praneeth Challagonda found himself in a water-logged apartment that served as his impromptu research lab as well as his home.

Praneeth is an embedded-sensors engineer with the FloodNet project. With university labs shut down as COVID-19 spread, his soggy apartment was the result of experiments he was running at home.

A collaboration between NYU Tandon, City government, The City University of New York (CUNY), and the Science and Resilience Institute at Jamaica Bay, FloodNet is the first-ever New York City flood-monitoring network and is planned to be the largest in any metropolitan area. It consists of a network of sensors embedded throughout the five boroughs to monitor and collect street-level flood depth data, which are delivered to an interactive map and data visualization platform in real time, allowing users to see the occurrence and depth of flood levels at each sensor location.

Praneeth, who earned his undergraduate degree in Electrical, Electronics and Communications Engineering from the Vellore Institute of Technology, in his native India, had come to Brooklyn in 2019 to earn a master’s degree in computer engineering at Tandon.

“I set my sights on doing my graduate studies in New York because when I watched movies set in the city, I loved the culture, energy, and excitement,” he recalls. “ I feel lucky to have gotten involved in FloodNet, a city-wide project that can directly enhance public safety and urban resilience. I feel fulfilled to contribute to such an impactful initiative in the place I love.”

From inception to full-scale production and deployment, Praneeth played an important role in the design and development of the flood sensor technology. Since graduating in 2021, he has been an integral part of FloodNet, where he now co-leads and advises a diverse team of engineers. Under his guidance, the team has successfully developed, deployed, and maintained hundreds of cutting-edge IoT sensors that span the entire city.

He says his lost security deposit is an infinitesimal price to pay for the chance to contribute to a project that has the potential to be lifesaving; when Hurricane Ida hit in 2021 — breaking the City's record for the most single-hour rainfall and killing 13 people within New York — FloodNet sensors at the intersection of Carroll Street and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn gave early warning of the rapidly rising water levels.

Numerous New York City agencies and organizations, including the Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Emergency Management, fire and police departments, Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Housing Authority, Office of Technology and Innovation, and Mayor's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice, have shown interest in using the data generated by the flood sensor network for emergency preparedness and response, identifying areas that need post-flood assistance, and informing long-term stormwater resiliency planning. “We’re in the process of expanding the network in New York City, and designing the sensor technology so it can be used in other cities,” Praneeth says. “And in the meantime, I haven’t started any actual floods in my research lab.”