Safecast - Japan Radiation Monitoring

by Safecast

As we enter March 2014 we're facing the third year anniversary of the 3/11 Tohoku earthquake and thus the foundation of Safecast. We thought this would be a good time to both reflect on what has been done in that time as well as look to the future and what the next 3 years might bring.

On our end, we just celebrated hitting our 16 millionth data point and co-founder Joi Ito will be giving a talk next month at TED about how we started and what came of that. The bGeigie Nano kits that we developed have been very popular and enabled that huge spike in data points now coming in from all corners of the earth including Antartica and Sudan - places we never imaged collecting data.

In Tokyo on March 15 & 16 we're hosting a series of talks on this "what happens next" topic and thinking about everything from sustainability of this project, to black swan events that are hard to predict but come with huge concequences. On Saturday we'll be at Tokyo University and on Sunday we'll be back at our offices in Shibuya. On Sunday we'll also host a global hackathon to update the website and fine tune our online offerings. If you'd like to join, or help out from afar please join the Safecast hackathons mailing list which can be found here.

We're also hoping to host our first US events in the following months, it's looking like DC in April, and Los Angeles shortly there after. If you are in those areas and want to help out please stay tuned.

Once again, thank you for all your support. We really couldn't have pulled this off without it.

Aizu build event
Aizu build event

As those of you who have been following Safecast for a while know, the "bGeigie" is the radiation monitoring platform we developed specifically to take readings while mobile -be that in a car, on a bike, or walking. Since the beginning of Safecast our volunteer force has been restricted not by interested people, but in devices to let them use. We just couldn't make enough fast enough. Over the last 2 years we've been refining the bGeigie platform again and again, with the intention of making is small enough that anyone could carry one around, and simple enough that it could be built in a few hours by anyone with a soldering iron. The bGeigie Nano is the results of those efforts, and it's the workhorse device the entire Safecast team relies on now. Together with our hardware partner International Medcom we're excited to release the bGeigie Nano kit. 

With a 2" pancake sensor, onboard GPS, data logging, and everything else the Nano without question our favorite tool in the Safecast aresenal. We recently held a build party in Aizu, Fukushima and built 13 of them in a weekend with the help of a team of volunteers - many of whome had never picked up a soldering iron before. The kit isn't cheap - but it's not designed to be a low cost solution. It's designed to be the best device we could imagine making, and it collects reliable accurate data configured perfectly for the Safecast dataset. This kit allows anyone in the world to take mobile readings and submit them back to to us. It's only been available for a month but we've already had a number of organizations buy several kits for their teams around the world as well as over 50 individuals who otherwise wouldn't have had access to this equipment. We're expecting to see data from Sudan and several parts of Russia soon.

This is a huge step for us and we're very excited to see how this helps us fill in some of the harder to reach gaps in the Safecast map and dataset.

bGeigie Nano
bGeigie Nano


We're just back from our 2nd hackathon of the year. We're trying to do each hackathon in a different city so that it's accessible to different people each time. In January we met in Tokyo, and last month we met in Boston (Cambridge actually, with the support of MIT). In January we spent a week working on anything and everything and while we got a lot done, admittedly it was a bit chaotic. For this event we wanted to focus the efforts a little more while still addressing a number of issues.

We decided to begin work on the "Safecast Air Force" or drone program as the focal point for this.

Drones are interesting for a number of obvious reasons, but for our purposes if we have a device that we can send out with any number of sensors onboard that can scan an area that is unsafe or unnavigable - that's huge. So that's what we focused on for the week. In doing so, it allowed us to think about how to made our sensors a bit more modular (swap out radiation for air quality, etc), how best to transfer data (keep onboard, or broadcast - using SMS or wifi, etc) and how to display data taking at altitude in relation to data taking at ground level.

All serious issues outside of the context of a drone, but within it that much more interesting. Which can be important with a volunteer team. :)

We started the week with nothing and by the end of the week had a drone with a bGeigie attached logging data as it flew. We tried a number of different off the shelf drone platforms and made quite some progress in deciding which direction we'd continue to work. There are a number of videos of our test flights that you can watch here:

All in all it was a very productive hackathon. As always, stay tuned to our blog and mailing lists for more regular updates as they happen. Thanks!

Safecast Hackathon, January 2013
Safecast Hackathon, January 2013

Having a distributed team is great for countless reasons, we have a talent pool literally the size of the entire world and no matter what time it is here, it's primetime for someone else so things can move pretty fast when they need to. Tools like our GitHub repositories help with that a lot. One of the downsides is out of sight out of mind - basically it's easy to push things off to the side and forget about them for months.

Towards the end of last year we devised a plan to help keep the momentem going, as well as sync people up to ensure that everyone had the same goals in mind, which can get confusing and lost in an endless flow of emails. So we decided to have 3-4 individual week long hanckathons in 2013 - each in a different city around the world. We'd bring people together to huddle up and get heads down together for a week and see what could happen.

In January we had our first hackathon, which we held at our offices in Shibuya, Tokyo. We brough in team members from Boston, Los Angeles, Dublin as well as pulled in people from all over Japan. It was incredibly helpful and we made a lot of progress on a number of different fronts. Behind the scenes we fixed a lot of issues and improved our database and API. Our map got a huge update and loads about a million times faster, as well as now having a direct link to the database so what's shown is much more current. The data upload section of our site was redesigned from the ground up. On the hardware front we made considerable progress on the new bGeigie Nano kit which we're hoping to have available in early March - this will allow anyone to build their on bGeigie and drive around to collect data for Safecast. We also took a few big steps with our new air sensors which you can read about here.

Overall it was a huge success, lots of progress and many people met for the first time. Putting a face with the name on the email you just got is always good. Our next hackathon will happen at the end of April, beginning of May in Boston. Putting together the plans for it now.

The Safecast iOS app has been continually updated and if you haven't grabbed it yet you definitely should. It's loaded with our full data set and acts as a virtual geiger counter!

On a final note, Global Giving is having a donation matching campaign in March with 200% matching on March 11th. If you were considering making another donation, that is a fantastic way to really multiply the impact!

Kittychan, Safecast offices, Shibuya
Kittychan, Safecast offices, Shibuya

We’re incredibly excited to announce the launch of the Safecast iOS app available in the App Store now. Last year we reached out to Nick Dolezal, creator of the most amazing GeigerBot, with some questions and ideas about his app. It didn’t take long for us to realize he would be a fantastic addition to the Safecast team and he agreed. We started brainstorming on what a Safecast iOS app might look like and what it might offer. The results of those continued discussions are live now. We’re most excited about the “virtual geiger counter” aspect to this app – using the GPS on your iPhone or iPad you can quickly see readings that have been taken around you. We’ve got the full Safecast dataset on board, as well as a handful of other publicly available radiation measurement data sets which gives a comprehensive exposure map for the US and Japan, with other areas being filled in as we collect those readings. There’s also the ability to connect your own geiger counter and take readings which can be submitted back to the Safecast Database.

We feel like this will be an incredibly useful application for just about anyone to have, and hope to keep improving it’s functionality as well grow. Enjoy!

The JapanTimes called it "strangely addictive" -- Download the iOS app now

Also, Tokyo based filmmaker Adrian Storey made this fantastic 3 minute documentary about Safecast for the Focus Forward Films competition and it’s made it to the semifinals! We’re really excited because not only is Adrian is an all around awesome dude, but he made an excellent film that hopefully many people will be able to check out and if he wins this competition Safecast will get some of the cash to help continue our efforts. If you have a moment and can go vote that would be much appreciated!


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Organization Information


Location: San Francisco,, CA - USA
Website: http:/​/​
Project Leader:
Sean Bonner
San Francisco, ca United States

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