Tokyo Hacker Space gets the data

05/20/2011
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Tokyo Hacker Space's meeting place Photo Credit: David Powell

TOKYO (majirox news) – A group of hackers, techies and activists met in Tokyo May 10. On the agenda was the Safecast project to help the victims of Japan’s disaster.

Safecast currently provides people with data on levels of radioactivity from the country’s schoolyards, highways, farmlands and cities in the Tohoku region.

The organization raised 37,000 dollars, only 30 days after they asked for donations May 7 on kickstarter.com, a site that helps people raise funds for projects. More than 270,000 people have visited the site since it was launched — pretty enabling stuff.

Safecast was created by a handful of people one week after the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant started leaking radiation March 11, following the earthquake and tsunami in northeastern Japan. Initially Safecast asked its Web site visitors to post information on radiation levels in Japan from their own Geiger counters. In the process, the group discovered other people and organizations were seeking the same data.

“We were frustrated with the lack of information being released,” said Pieter Franken, leader of Safecast in Tokyo. “We needed a reliable and an independent source to measure radiation, clarifying how it was measured. That’s why we started the group.”

He added that there are many holes in the map of radiation detection in Japan. “It doesn’t tell how and where it was measured such as in the air, in the soil or the pavements,” Franken said. “We only have limited data from the government.”

Tokyo Hacker Space discussing projects on May 10 Photo Credit: David Powell

The group has driven six times to the disaster area with a Keio University team and volunteers to find the levels of radiation. The data were measured from the streets and more than 25 schools in Fukushima. Additionally, they gave Geiger counters to the local people.

“The local people have been very receptive to us and keen to know what the measurements are in their own neighborhoods and schools,” Franken said.

The group, which initially didn’t have enough money to buy Geiger counters, currently has around 30 in the field, 3 mobile Geiger counters, which are car-based, and 25 handheld sensors. Another 50 devices will be active by the end of June and 500 sensors will be deployed in six months.

The group is also designing and building networkable sensor devices, which will be available later this year.

Safecast measures radiation on Geiger counters Photo Credit: David Powell

They now have 50 regular worldwide volunteers and a core team of five people who are experts in hardware, software, branding, nuclear crises and technology start-ups. Many come from Tokyo Hacker Space, which has a network of people in other countries, including the United States, Australia, Canada, Germany, Dubai and Singapore. Tokyo Hacker Space is a place where people meet, work on their projects and hang out.

Kalin Kozhuharov, a member of Safecast.org in Tokyo, said there is a need for this network because wind and earthquakes can change radiation levels. “The data needs to be organized well so people can get the whole picture of the situation,” he said.

The data are gathered from local volunteers and put on Safecast’s site with maps. People with iPhones can also post the data on Twitter with links to Flicker with pictures of sensor readings and maps of spots measured.

This group aims to eventually report all sorts of data – from radiation to pollution to seismic information. Disasters that can be connected to a data network that will establish what is normal and help rescue teams, non-profits and scientists quickly understand when data exceed normal values.

“We want to help in an intermediate role by sharing our data with governments and scientists, so they can give better advice to people,” Kozhuharov said.

Emery Premeaux, another Safecast member in Tokyo, said, “Japan’s government has too many processes to get things done. Individuals don’t have such problems. The open source and hacker movements will push this project and others forward with borderless contributions.”

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2 Responses to Tokyo Hacker Space gets the data

  1. Toyouta on 05/21/2011 at 6:29 pm

    They are really a great group. I am anxious to hear the result of their study.

  2. Tali on 05/22/2011 at 11:29 am

    Yesterday`s poll by Fuji TV that 83% of people didn’t trust the government regarding the nuclear accident at Fukushima shows it is necessary that radiation be examined by the third party testing such as Safecast.
    I appraise their efforts.

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