During a recent family visit to Iceland and France this July, I took my bGeigie along, and in the course of a few weeks, this has allowed me to send about 50,000 measurements to the Safecast database, during many drives. Once you get into the habit of hanging the bGeigie on the outside of your car, it is impressive how many data points you end up collecting very fast!
I thought I would share a couple of notes from the road, hoping it will encourage even more bGeigie owners to regularly share their drives.
Apps are your friends
… and Bluetooth too: as you might already be aware, you can add a Bluetooth LE module on the bGeigie, and we recently released two apps on iOS and Android – disclaimer, I am the developer of the Android app – that make use of this module to record and display your drives on your phone.
This makes it a breeze to just send the drives to Safecast in a matter of seconds, rather than having to open the bGeigie, find a MicroSD adapter, locate the right file, etc. Definitely a game changer if you use your bGeigie often.
With the recent “Cosmic” flag on drives, you can now use your bGeigie on planes to log radiation level during air travel. Though most people expect either airport security or flight attendants to react when they see a bGeigie in a bag or hanging in the back of an airplane seat, my experience through dozens of flights is that I haver never been challenged by anyone. The truth is that the bGeigie does not look ‘interesting’ to a trained security agent, and flight attendants have more pressing matters to attend to than ask passengers about their gadgets. That said, I have had a couple of friendly discussions with curious flight attendants, always with very positive feedback. Airline personnel are usually very aware of the relatively high level of ambient radiation on flights and welcome any initiative to get independent measurements.
So by all means, don’t hesitate to log your flights, you will be surprised how good the GPS module on the bGeigie is.
Pro tip: make sure you turn on your bGeigie while still on the tarmac, and it gets a lock before you are airborne. Consumer GPS modules like the one on the bGeigie will have a lot of trouble acquiring an initial lock at more than a few hundred km/h, their firmware is meant for car or pedestrian use. But if you get a good lock before take-off, chances are you will be able to log the whole flight, especially if you are close to a window.
With just three days in Iceland, we only visited the south. Very low ambient radiation levels everywhere we drove. Since we were not the first to safecast Iceland, we were able to compare our drives to previous data points, and verify the readings we got were globally consistent, always a good thing to double-check!
Pro-tip: depending on the car you are driving, the road surface and your speed, you might experience the bGeigie “flipping” above a certain speed, and banging against the window. The bGeigie is a very rugged unit, but for consistent measurements, you want it to be stable. A small suction cup can make a huge difference, as shown on the picture below: I have never had the bGeigie flip with this in place, no matter what speed I drove at.
We spent a week in the Cotentin region of Normandy, which from a radiological standpoint is famous thanks to its very large nuclear waste treatment plant located in “La Hague”, at the very northern tip of Cotentin. It was apparently the first time anyone safecasted this region, and we took the opportunity to drive all around the plant using side roads. Despite the fact we must have driven at low speed past more than a 100 security cameras – this is a super high security site, and rightly so – no one bothered us.
We also spent a couple of days in the “Loire” region, which, to my surprise, is fairly radioactive. Again, any doubt about the reliability of my own bGeigie was dispersed by comparing my data to previous drives in the same area. After all, this is a region where there used to be uranium mines, and the natural radiation background is expected to be fairly high.
To that last point, driving around with a bGeigie is also a great way to learn more about the geology of a region and some of the lesser known aspects of its history – and an awesome way to raise your kids’ awareness of the world around them.
I am always surprised at how long the battery will last on the bGeigie: be it an 8 hour flight, or a whole day of driving, I have never been able to run the battery empty, even though my bGeigie only has a fairly small lithium battery installed inside. A charge every couple of days is plenty!
One thing I found I was missing during this trip, is a simple Safecast.org card that I could give to people who asked me questions about the bGeigie and Safecast. In my experience, people who notice the bGeigie usually ask a question about it, and there is always a keen interest from people to learn more. I will probably design one at some point.
So I hope this post has encouraged you to either build your own bGeigie, or go out even more if you already own one. And get the Bluetooth module, it will make your life so much easier, and will ensure many more drives end up in the Safecast database rather than wait for too long on the SD card inside your bGeigie!
About the author
Edouard Lafargue is a Safecast volunteer, involved in particular with the bGeigie Android app, and current maintainer of the Onyx open source Geiger counter firmware.