Using open source & grassroots to map the world’s radiation data


Mapping the world’s radiation and air pollution data, using one volunteer with one gadget at a time — that’s the goal of the Safecast project, which this week closed over $100,000 on Kickstarter to deliver a limited run of its open source geiger counters to interested buyers. “I don’t think it’s an unreasonable goal,” to create comprehensive maps of this data from all over the world, says Sean Bonner, co-founder of Safecast, in a phone interview shortly after his team’s project was funded.

Safecast originally focused on mapping radiation data just from Fukushima, Japan, in the wake of the nuclear disaster, and had a larger end goal to map the rest of Japan, too. But they realized that with enough eager volunteers in Japan, that mapping the entire country using geiger counters mounted on cars and held in the hands of regular citizens, was pretty doable. “It’s really only a matter of time before we’ve got all of Japan covered,” says Bonner.

The lack of reliable tools to deliver this data, was one of the reasons that Safecast started working with designer and Chumby co-founder, Andrew “Bunnie” Huang, to create an open source geiger counter design that could be used to get easy-to-use and accurate geiger counters out there to people that need them. While the limited edition run on Kickstarter will help produce about 170 geiger counters, says Bonner, the manufacturer of the gadgets, Metcom, will start selling the official commercial version of the geiger counter by the end of the year.

Getting these devices out there — especially internationally — is a key to getting access to the world’s local radiation data. The devices will run about $800, and the limited edition version cost pledgers at least $400.

The religious flag behind this project is the idea that this data should be accurate and open. Safecast uses open source and APIs and anyone can use the data to conduct research. For example a health researcher could use their radiation data to compare radiation levels against health information.

Local level radiation data is largely not available currently, or it’s owned by companies and not released. Much of the publicly available radiation data available today is based on averages, explained Bonner to me. Most of the data out there is like if you asked me what temperature it was outside of my house in San Francisco and all I could tell you is the state average for all of California.

The geiger counters can deliver radiation data down to the granular — or human — level. More recently Safecast also decided to start looking at using their mapping platform for air pollution, too, and are contemplating ways to add on sensors for air pollution to their open source gadgets.

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