Introducing the Solarcast Nano

Earlier this year we announced our new Solarcast device. Most notably, this was our first production device to include air quality monitoring capability, but more significant for us was that thanks to Solarcast’s onboard cellular connection and solar power, we now had the ability to “drop and forget” a device, rather than depend on external power infrastructure or manual processes to get data from it. This was a major step  for Safecast and something we knew would find more uses for going forward. A few weeks later a tunnel collapse at the Hanford Site in Washington State presented just the kind of use case we had envisioned. The exciting benefits of Solarcast, however, were counterbalanced by its steep cost and time-consuming production requirements, and while the addition of air quality sensing is something we’ve been working on for a while, it’s not not necessary for quick-deployment radiation survey and monitoring scenarios like at Hanford. Our bGeigie Nano excels at that kind of operation, but it requires someone to physically carry the device around and upload the data. We needed something that combined compact portability and fully automated operation. So we designed it. And sliding in just before the end of the year, we’re excited to introduce the Solarcast Nano.   The Solarcast Nano emerged from our ongoing around the clock discussions of needs and emerging technical  possibilities.  As with the original Solarcast, Ray Ozzie led the design and wrote the software for it. The air quality components in the original Solarcast draw a lot of power, and eliminating them in the Solarcast Nano allowed us to shrink the size of the solar panel, with hopes of fitting it into a smaller pelican case similar to the bGeigie. We brought in Joseph Chiu from ToyBuilder Labs to do the 3d modeling and …

Solarcast Deployment: Los Angeles

Earlier this year we announced Solarcast and talked about some of the challenges we faced while designing it. Thanks to the generous support of the Annenberg Foundation & Metabolic Studio (as well as the longterm support of the Shuttleworth Foundation) we were able to create the first batch of these devices and have been deploying them in Los Angeles. The data coming in from these is now accessible via the Safecast API and can be queried along with everything else. These devices are solar powered and cellular connected, so they are sending in data all the time and they power themselves. This is a huge improvement from our previous Pointcast devices that required both power and connectivity in any location they were placed. This also makes Solarcast more portable, so we can do fun things like deploy them on every house on a single block, and then a week later expand that out to 2 blocks, and so on without having to think about complicated installations. As the Solarcast sensors collect a lot more data than our previous radiation-only devices, we had to rethink how we’d represent these devices on our maps. The results of that is live now in our primary web visualization (air quality + radiation) as well as realtime (radiation only) maps. The icons for the Solarcast sensors jump out right away and need a little further explanation. We wanted to quickly convey a lot of things to the viewer without confusing people with too much info right away. We decided on this “3 triangle” icon to do just that. The center triangle represents the current particulate (air quality) reading, with the two triangles in the background showing the lowest (left) and highest (right) readings from the last 24 hours. The angle of the 3 triangles represents …

Q&A: Why Safecast’s Global Director Has Moved To Japan

Safecast’s director of global operations, Sean Bonner, is adding another entry to an already long CV: moved to Japan in August, 2017. Besides looking forward to exploring the country and sharing his passion for Japan his family, the move means that Sean will be closer to the centre of the action when it comes to Safecast’s newest project: measuring air pollution. We sat down for a Q&A session about the next steps for Safecast, his views on the importance of the data generated, and about Japan in general. Starting with Safecast, how does the move to Japan fit? It’s an interesting time for Safecast right now, I would say. We’ve been working on collecting air pollution data for a while, and that project is really gathering momentum. Being here, and being able to sit down face-to-face with other members of the Safecast group on a daily basis helps boost the speed with which we can move forwards with that project. The same goes for work on various projects that ties in with the gathering of radiation data. Do you see the air pollution project as a new chapter? And if so, are there things from the gathering of radiation data that can be transferred to the air pollution project? It’s not so much a new chapter as it’s like a second book that we’re putting on the shelf, next to the one that Safecast’s volunteers have been writing since 2011, about Safecast and radiation data. We’re by no means finished with radiation. That’s an important thing to underline. What we’re doing is working on finding ways to use our existing data-gathering platform on something besides radiation, something which also has an effect on humans and the environment, and which people want and need more information about. Like with radiation, our …

Bodega Marine Lab radiation sensor is back online!

TL;DR;  The Safecast realtime seawater radiation sensor at Bodega Bay, CA, has been repaired. The realtime feed is here. For more details, read on! Though ocean scientists have been monitoring the levels of radionuclides in the ocean for decades, this took on a renewed urgency following the Fukushima accident. The radiation released into the Pacific Ocean by the accident has spread as an ocean plume (see our blog post from 2014 describing what scientists expected to happen), and has reached the West Coast of North America. Recent research indicates that the levels of Fukushima-derived radionuclides are similar to what was measured in the Pacific in the 1970s, following years of nuclear weapons testing. While this is good news to people who feared much worse, it’s still significant and can’t be dismissed as a concern. Though no great damage to Pacific marine life is expected from these levels, few experts believe enough monitoring is being done, and researchers continue to struggle for funding. Safecast is happy to play a part in the long-term monitoring of Pacific radiation. Seawater is very harsh on electronics. The Safecast radiation sensor that was installed in 2015 at the Bodega Marine Lab in California failed in early 2017 due to water infiltration, leaving us without the only seawater monitoring station in the Safecast network. In their own words, “The University of California, Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) is dedicated to understanding environmental processes at the land-sea interface on California’s North Coast – an area known for the productivity and diversity of its marine and terrestrial ecosystems.” Safecast was lucky enough to be invited to install a fixed radiation sensor at the location where BML measures many parameters of the seawater that is constantly pumped to feed the lab. Similarly to Safecast, all the data measured by those …

Solarcast: Behind The Music

We wanted to explain a little more about what led us to the development and release of Solarcast and some of the challenges we faced along the way. With the deployment of our Pointcast network we realized that a recurring problem with placing sensors was access to both power and internet for the devices we wanted to deploy in the field. We also found that complicated configuration requirements for devices required a Safecast team member to be physically involved with each installation, which made deployment slow. We know from our bGeigie deployment that the easier we make the process of getting data from the device to us, the more data we get. With the intention of adding air quality sensors we wanted to rethink all of these issues and see where we would go if starting from square one. The idea to have a totally wireless, solar powered, auto-configuring device that could be dropped anywhere and forgotten and which would just work was born. We wanted this to be very simple, and initially called the project Simplecast, though we realized that the solar aspect of this really made it standout out and chose a name that emphasized that instead. It started with just a breadboard and an idea… Original Safecast team member Ray Ozzie took the lead on all aspects of this, taking it as a personal challenge to meet the self-prescribed requirements. We opted to use dual air particulate sensors to validate each other, and provide useful field research for future devices and deployments. The usefulness of a stand-alone wireless device is pretty endless. And here’s Ray showing off the legendary “snowboard mount” that allows it to sit on the roof of a car for easy relocation from one place to another, on essentially any vehicle with a roof mount, in any country. …

Introducing Solarcast

What is SOLARCAST? Safecast has gained a tremendous amount of experience since starting our citizen-based environmental monitoring program in March, 2011. The learning curve has often been steep, but always rewarding. Conceived and designed primarily by OG Safecaster Ray Ozzie, our new Solarcast device combines everything we’ve learned deploying our bGeigie mobile radiation sensors, Pointcast fixed radiation sensors, and our recent Safecast Air beta test, and is intended to provide convenient, hassle-free, independent operation. Main features: Drop and forget: Solarcast is compact, wireless, portable, and autonomous. It can easily be deployed anywhere, globally. Self-configuring: Unit identifies available communication protocols and configures itself to use them. Low-power consumption: Optimized to provide long, unattended operation under solar / battery power. Combined radiation and particulate: Dual radiation sensors and dual particulate sensors enhance reliability and data density. Rugged: Designed for long-term outdoor use Thanks to support from The Shuttleworth Foundation and Annenberg Foundation and built by our friends at Fabrikor in Slovenia, these devices will be deployed in and around Los Angeles, with additional coverage locations across the US, Europe, and Japan.   What’s in the box? Sensors: — Air: Each Solarcast unit has an enclosed particulate sensor module which contains Alphasense OPC-N2 and Plantower 5003 particulate sensors, measuring PM10, PM2.5 & PM1.0. — Temperature — Humidity — Radiation: Dual LND 7317 2” pancake GM tubes (same as in the bGeigie and Pointcast units) with Medcom iRover high voltage power supplies   Comms: — 3G cellular — LoRa Position: — GPS — Accelerometer (for orientation and movement – Particulate measurements taken only when device is not in motion) Power: — Solar panels — Battery pack (trickle-charged by the solar panels) — External AC power Additional option: LoRa gateway: The Solarcast is LoRa capable, and can use any existing LoRa gateway it detects. We’ve designed an optional compact LoRa gateway that …

Earthquake Recap: What Worked, What Didn’t

Safecast was formed in reaction to the Fukushima Nuclear Powerplant Disaster, which was caused by the magnitude 9.0 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami of March 11, 2011. Specifically, our project was begun because of the lack of publicly available data regarding the accident’s impacts and the condition of the nuclear reactors themselves in the days and weeks following the start of the disaster. In the last 5+ years we’ve put in a lot of work creating tangible results, not the least of which is collecting and publishing almost 60 million background radiation data points and deploying a realtime, always on static sensor network. We’ve created the largest open radiation dataset to ever exist and put it entirely in the public domain. Researchers are now able to study radiation backgrounds in ways that were not possible before, and the public now has a vetted, trustworthy, independent source of information. We’ve done this for many reasons. We want to help study the environmental consequences of the 2011 disaster; we want to help avoid the information vacuum, trust, and communication issues that occurred then the next time something similar takes place; and we want to help people become familiar with normal background radiation levels around the world. The 7.3 earthquake that struck off Fukushima yesterday was exactly what we’ve been preparing for, and luckily it proved to be a excellent test run for us. For everyone’s sake, we’re thankful it wasn’t another full scale emergency. With yesterday’s events fresh in our minds, and in the interest of transparency, we thought it might be useful to look a little closer at how things played out on our end – what worked, what didn’t, and what we can improve on for next time. Much of our work has been preparation for similar hypothetical situations, so we’re fortunate to have an actual dry run to see how things work in …

Safecast Air Prototypes

If you’ve been following along at home you know that at Safecast we’ve been thinking about measuring air quality for quite some time. More than once we’ve jumped in only to be disappointed with the results, pushing us back to square one. One of the key tenets at Safecast is that we must be able to stand behind the data we publish 100%, so to that end we need to trust the sensors we’re putting out into the world. The fact is we just haven’t had that kind of confidence in relation to the air quality tests we’ve conducted, until now. Towards the end of 2015 we built and deployed the first Safecast air sensor that we think is actually a viable prototype. We call this Prototype 001. This device is designed to be a static sensor, permanently installed in a single location with fixed power and internet for the data consumption. It’s also huge. You can see in the photo below, the tiny little PCB with the display – that’s the same footprint as the bGeigie Nano, so you can get a good idea of the overall size. It’s not exactly something you can just throw in your backpack. As mentioned in previous posts, one of the hurdles with measuring air quality has been deciding what “air quality” actually means, as it isn’t really a technical term, and in different places different things are more important to measure. For our devices we decided to take a modular route so that different sensors could be plugged in to any Safecast Air device to customize what is being measured in that area. To complicate matters, there isn’t yet a reliable way to collect particulate data in a mobile device, so for any sensor we want to use collect particulate data, for now that means it’s going …

Safecast X Shuttleworth

As some will already know the Shuttleworth Foundation has been a gracious supporter of Safecast and helped make our recent 4 year anniversary event possible. As one of their Fellows I’ve been fortunate to get to meet with and work with a brilliant collection of people from around the world working on similar openness-focused, potentially world-changing projects. Last year we came together in Malta to talk about what we were working on and where our projects were headed. As the event wrapped up and people prepared to head back to their respective corners of the world we had an idea. What if each fellow had a bGeigie to take with them to safecast their home towns and to take with them on their travels? This year the fellows convened in Toronto and we had a surprise for them. As the first line of “Special Edition” bGeigie’s we produced 4 green devices in collaboration with Shuttleworth that would be available for use by the Fellows. While there are more fellows than bGeigies at the moment, we gotta start somewhere, right? These 4 devices were entrusted to Daniel Lombraña González (Crowd Crafting & PyBossa), who has sent in data already Madrid & León; Jesse von Doom (Cash Music), who took a device back to Portland and will be mapping the Pacific Northwest; Johnny West (Open Oil), who lives in Berlin though thanks to his travels should be sending even more exotic locations soon; and finally Luke Mustafa (Koruza), based in Maribor, Slovenia who has already covered much new ground. The plan for the moment is for each fellow to map out as much ground as they can – new and old – and then hand off to other fellows in other locations to continue the project. Between these four people we’ve already added over …

Vice Japan Covers Recent bGeigie Build EventVice Japan がbGeigie のイベントに!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1vZUg1HEKI4 Recently, we held a build your own bGeigie Nano workshop at our offices in Shibuya, Tokyo. We’d been talking to the great folks at Vice Japan for a while and they decided they wanted to join the workshop and build a geiger counter for themselves. We were fortunate that schedules worked out and Yuka Uchida 内田有香 was able to attend. This piece, produced by Joseph George ジョージ・ジョセフ, gives a excellent overview of the event and process from building the bGeigie to collecting and uploading the data. SAFECAST は、10月、DIYタイプのガイガーカウンター bGeigie Nano のワークショップを、東京・渋谷で行いました。 当日は、Vice Japan (バイス・ジャパン)の内田有香さんも、お忙しい中、参加してくださいました。 このビデオは、ジョージ・ジョセフ氏のプロデュースによるものです。 bGeigieを自分で作ることで、ガイガーカウンターをより理解できるようになることが、 この映像からもわかります。 イベントの模様は、YouTubeリンクからご覧いただけます。