NEWS

Safecast Uses Kickstarter to Fund Citizens' Geiger Counter

By Carlton Purvis

After the earthquake and tsunami that damaged the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant, Sean Bonner and many others recognized a need for publicly available, accurate, and detailed radiation data. He used the online fundraising Web site Kickstarter to help establish Safecast, an open global sensor network currently monitoring radiation levels in Japan.

Safecast was created one week after the earthquake. That first Kickstarter campaign hoped to put 100 Geiger counters in the hands of volunteers in Japan to collect data on radiation levels across the country.

“That didn't happen exactly like we'd planned,” he said in an interview on Tuesday. “Turned out to be impossible as there were no devices available prior to March 2011. No one gave a shit about radiation monitoring so the global stock of Geiger counters sold out in seconds.” Six months after the disaster, Bonner, the Global Director of Safecast, and his team only had about 30 of them.

Safecast used the available Geiger counters to created bGeigie, a system that can be attached to a car to drive around and collect data. Since then, they’ve been able to get new devices -- five to 10 at a time --- and have collected and published more than three million data points from across Japan. They mapped the data and published it online.

Now Safecast has expanded outside of Japan and hopes to  allow every day citizens collect data points from around the world to get a baseline for the planet “so next time something happens we have useful information to cross reference.”

The scarcity of Geiger counters pushed Bonner and his team to work on developing a new Geiger counter and a new Kickstarter campaign.

“During this time we've had a chance to use just about every Geiger counter currently in production, and many that have long been out of production. The thing is, radiation monitors aren't things that get a lot of development attention when there isn't a crisis happening, so even the very best models available now were designed 20+ years ago. We felt it was time for an update, and now was the time to do it,” says the homepage of the campaign.

International Medcom agreed to produce Safecast’s design (a Safecast and Bunnie Huang collaboration), a Geiger counter about the size of an iPhone that can provide readings for alpha, beta, and gamma radiation and upload data via smartphone – the Swiss army knife of Geiger counters.

The first week of June, Bonner launched an initiative to raise $4,000 so Safecast could produce 10 of its Geiger counters. The project was fully funded in six hours. The campaign ended Tuesday with $104,268 raised.

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