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Want to build up a bGeigie Nano from scratch? You’re gonna need a PCB, so we just posted the schematic on OSH. You can download it or order a PCB directly from them if you want to give it a shot. What’s kind of cool here is that the standard bGeigie Nano’s have blue PCBs and the ones from OSH will be purple, so it’s kind of a limited edition / status symbol if you have a purple one. Pair it up with a Yellow Pelican Micro Case and you can have an LA Lakers edition. Of course if you don’t want to source every single part yourself you can still pick up the complete kit from Medcom.
A few weeks ago we gathered in Aizu with a crew of Safecast volunteers to celebrate hitting 10 million datapoints though we actually had a productive goal for the weekend as well. We held what will hopefully be the first of many bGeigie workshops based on our new bGeigie Nano kit. The idea being, get a bunch of people together in one room and build bGeigie Nano’s – and everyone can help each other along and it can be an awesome experience for everyone. Plus, it generates lots of new bGeigies to go out in the world and collect more data.
The workshop was a huge success, we built 14 bGeigies in total which is a testament to how simple and easy the new kit is to put together. Keep in mind, it used to take us a week to build 2 or 3 of these things. And some of the people building them had never soldered anything in their lives before this. Exciting to say the least. Our plan is to hold the next of these in Los Angeles sometime later this year, but ideally we’ll have them popping up all over the world soon. If you’d like to join us for the build in Los Angeles, or want to host a build in your own city – please get in touch. In the meantime you can order your own bGeigie Nano kit here for $450.
(Photos by Pieter, Jurgen and Sean.)
The above video is a hexacopter with an onboard bGeigie Nano taking radiation readings in flight and broadcasting live via wifi. It’s the result of the just finished week long Safecast hackathon that just took place in Cambridge, MA.
There were a number of reasons to focus on a drone during this hackathon. Of course drones are cool and exciting, so that helped to keep people interested. On a practical level there’s also a need for something like this that would enable us to take measurements in a location that would be too dangerous or just plain unreachable for people, such as a steep hillside or a contaminated area. We could also plot out a flight path and let a drone measure a huge field much quicker than a person might be able to navigate the area. Thinking about our data in relation to a drone also allowed us to consider some existing issues from a different perspective and tackle them with renewed vigor.
The concept of a Safecast Air Force – that is a modular drone platform with a number of interchangeable elements – was originally suggested by Ray Ozzie and and over the week Safecasters Naim Busek, Joe Moross, Pieter Franken, Steven Wright, Ariel Levi Simons, Haiyan Zhang, Paul Campbell, Anthony DeVincenzi, Samuel Luescher and I took it from idea to reality.
We started off with a prebuilt Hexacopter from 3D Robotics and then upgraded the motors and blades, as well as giving it a more robust DJI Flame Wheel Frame. With Ardupilot (an open sourced arduino based autopilot system) providing the brains and Safecast providing the payload, we built quite a full featured flying machine.
While this is certainly our flagship at the moment, we also looked into using the Parrot AR.Drone 2.0 Quadricopter as a prebuilt platform as well. We have a lot of work to do reducing weight of devices for that to work, but if we can prove a concept works on a more expensive design and then scale it back to a minimum viable product that easier for people to contribute to that’s an exciting prospect as well.
If we step back for a moment, this modular system becomes quite elegant. The drone is the “platform” but could easily be swapped out for a bike, a car, or carried by a person. The “sensors” for this proof of concept were radiation, but could also be swapped for air quality or anything else you wanted to monitor. We were using wifi to “upload” the data, but there are any number of other data transfer methods that could be deployed here. We’ll continue to develop this program and are excited to see how it helps spring board our other initiatives.
A handful of earlier test flight videos can be found after the jump.
Last night at the weekly Crash Space meeting, Naim showed off the current, working, Safecast Air prototype during show & tell, as well as an example of a possible housing using plates. We’re calling the device the “canAIRe” and may actually use a can as the housing, but this was interesting to see in practice. The housing is important because it has to let enough air through to be measured, while still protecting from the elements. We’ve also realized that the particle sensors we’re going to need are are going to be much beefier than originally anticipated – the cheaper smaller ones only perform in heavily contaminated areas, so for any reliable measurements at low levels we need to step up the hardware. More soon!
The biggest limitation Safecast has faced in collecting data is the limited availability of our workhorse device, the bGeigie. The design works great, but it’s expensive (each one costs us about $1000) and time consuming (building one can take an entire week) which results in us having limited numbers of them to keep in use. We have way more people who want to drive around with bGeigie’s than we have bGeigie’s to be driven around. To solve this issue, we’ve created the bGeigie Nano, and thusly the bGeigie Nano Kit. As you might guess the Nano is a smaller form factor which makes it much easier to carry around and use, yet it’s even more feature packed than the original bGeigie. In fact many Safecast team members use the Nano’s exclusively now and carry them at all times, the compact size makes this incredibly easy to do.
Most importantly, the nano is a fairly simple kit comprised of readily available off the shelf parts. If you know how to solder (or want to spent 10 minutes learning how) you can build the Nano Kit in an evening, and be Safecasting the next day. You can take individual spot readings, or attach it to your car and drive around collecting geotagged radiation data that can be uploaded to Safecast via our API upload page. This is the exact same process we use. The design (hardware and software) is open source (just like all Safecast projects) so you are invited to hunt down each part on your own, but to make things simple we’ve teamed up with Medcom to provide a kit that you can build yourself. The cost will be $450 and they will be selling them on a first come first serve basis in batches as the kits are produced. If you want one, fill out this bGeigie Nano interest form and someone will follow up with you in short order.
More photos and technical details after the jump.
[All photos by Pieter Franken]
This is happening, stay tuned
“YOU CAN’T ALWAYS FIND WHAT YOU’RE LOOKING FOR…..”
[Skip to Part 2] At Safecast we assumed from the start that our data should be accurate, easy to understand, informative, well-visualized, and easily accessible. In many respects this simply reflects “best practices” in information design, as well as a vision of social responsibility in which openness and transparency are paramount virtues. So when we make decisions about how to present our data, we adhere to principles of intuitiveness, depth, context, and dare we say it, beauty in design. We want to make it as easy as possible (AEAP) for people to find what they’re looking for, and to find out what it means. That’s why we’re continually miffed when official sources of information seem to be operating under an entirely different set of assumptions.
To be honest, the seriousness of government missteps and opacity during the early weeks of the disaster led us to accommodate ourselves to vastly lowered expectations in terms of the quality and accessibility of information we’d probably see from official sources. Even though it’s their job, and they are legally required to provide many kinds of information, many of us prepared ourselves for endless tooth-pulling and fact-checking about radiation information. So first, I’d like to give a sort of brief status update:
1) The government has made a lot of information available, more than we expected (because we expected nothing).
2) It still needs to be scrutinized, fact-checked, and independently confirmed.
3) There are still some areas where a lot of us have been pulling teeth for months and still haven’t been able to get the information we’re looking for.
So let’s just agree to live with #2 and #3 for the moment. It means constant effort on our part, but enough of us are constitutionally well-equipped for this kind of research-based tug-of-war that it’s not really that onerous at this point. We get good at it, we build trust, and people who were once opponents sometimes become allies, because frankly, they need our help.
But #1 is where we find ourselves really scratching our heads. There is all sorts of official information available, and a lot of it is proving reliable, but it’s rarely as easily accessible or informative as it should be. In fact, locating and using the data is usually as difficult as possible (ADAP) considering how easy it is now to find good information and web designers, and how inexpensive it has become. It should be easy to do a good job, if the people in charge really care about doing a good job.
GOVERNMENT MONITORING POSTS
[Part 1 here] In recent months there has been a fair amount of controversy concerning the accuracy of the radiation monitoring posts the government has installed all over Fukushima prefecture, and in some neighboring prefectures as well. We wrote about it back in July, 2012:
almost 700 of these monitoring posts (675 at latest count), which we refer to as “droids” because of how they look (see photo above). They are all powered by solar panels and use storage batteries.
[Update: 2700 monitoring posts have been installed as of Feb. 2013]
Through the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science, and Technology (MEXT), the government spent a lot of money (we haven’t been able to find out precisely how much) to have them installed, and spent more money to have a web site made that displays the readings: MEXT realtime environmental radiation page
From this reasonably attractive-looking page, users are supposed to click on a prefecture, then on a region of the prefecture, and then choose from any one of a dozen or more municipalities. Then a scrolling list appears on the right hand side, and users can select a particular monitoring post to review (In the case of Koriyama City in Fukushima, there are 393 monitoring posts in the list). A zoomable, scrollable Google Fusion map appears, and the individual posts are marked by colored dots. Clicking a dot gives the current reading at that location, updated very 10 minutes it seems, and it is possible to download data for the entire month. So, thank you for doing that much, at least, MEXT.
This system sucks in many ways. While working with it in order to compare the MEXT readings with our own, we’ve found that it’s impossible to get an overview of more than a small part of Fukushima at any one time, that hunting down particular locations is incredibly time consuming and frustrating, that the cumulative time data does not go back far enough, and that the downloadable data comes with many restrictions and is difficult to pull down efficiently. Yes, MEXT made this system ADAP — As Difficult As Possible.