The bGeigie Diaries: Mapping Across Australia

On the road through Australia’s vast interior

Data collector: Richard Unwin

bGeigie Number: 2327 – User ID 605

Data locations: Across Australia, including around Perth, central Australia and Tasmania.

Hot Spot / Interesting Readings:  Vatican City – Rome – interesting readings near some of the granite statues of Rome.

Missed Readings: Stelvio Pass, Italy – one of the more challenging roads in the world, and the bGeigie skipped a beat. While the readings were taken, it doesn’t like the upload process. Sean and the team had a look, but it was decided to leave out the data set. I will have to revisit one day to get the points again.

Richard Unwin with his bGeigie.

What’s the last thing that you logged with a bGeigie?

My bGeigie went out in the middle of Western Australia with my brother who was doing a 4WD trip. I am not sure how many readings they got, as their rear suspension broke and they were stuck until one of the other cars could make it back with spares, so we might just end up with a million readings of where they were stuck.

Said car waiting for repairs.

How did you get interested in Safecast?

My interest in Safecast started shortly after hearing about the project via my online readings on different data collection systems. I run a test laboratory for appliances here in Australia to make sure items sold are safe for the Australian and international markets, and had been looking at various methods of logging data to tackle a few projects I have to test. I was also a member of the Brisbane Hacker Space at the time and so have a general interest in all things electronic, and so it was a natural extension to get a bGeigie and start data collections.

As well as my interest in electronics, my wife is a biology scientist who studies field biology of invasive species, and I get to assist in her data collection trips, so we tend to travel to remote places collecting samples and when we go. It’s easy to gather radiation data at the same time.

What got you interested in collecting radiation measurements?

My interest in radiation measurements comes from wanting to be able to know how to make a rational decision on whether or not the use of nuclear power is safe. Australia is in the midst of a power distribution challenge, and the debate seems to centre around emotional responses more than facts. Our current government also seems to use politics before facts and has been in limbo for the past 20 years on power production, distribution and anything to do with renewable energy. Therefore, I see the Safecast project as one that helps with providing a baseline point for any discussion on potential use of nuclear power here in Australia. Like Safecast’s position on nuclear power I am neither for or against it, but you can’t make a decision without facts.

Richard and his bGeigie has collected much of the radiation data you can see on the Safecast tile map.

What are some of the trips you have taken with the bGeigige?

I have taken my bGeigie on several overseas trips including Europe, Vietnam, Bali, New Zealand, UK, and collected data during several flights when I’ve had a window seat. Unfortunately, the new Dreamliner planes with the electronic window shades don’t seem to let the GPS signals through, so on a few of my last trips I could not get data, even though I had a nice window seat.

Some of the trips in Australia have been through some of the roughest tracks in the country. I am happy to say the bGeigie is standing up to the test. Corrugated dirt roads are probably the toughest challenge and we have had the Ram Mount Stick On Mount fail and release from the case as the vibrations were so bad. But the bGeigie kept working.

What has the reaction been from people you’ve encountered on the data gathering trips?

Across all of its travels, the bGeigie and Safecast project has been met with favourable interest. When it has been seen mounted to a vehicle, most people want to know what it’s for and are generally interested in why we are doing this. So far, we have not been met with any negative feedback. Even on plane trips using it in the cabin, people are interested in the readings taken, and are generally quite unaware of the high readings taken at altitude and that radiation might be a contributing factor to jet lag. I also explain part of the project is to gather data and share through open license to the world this data without bias, which is well received and an important point to make as there is a general distrust into information received from governments these days.

Gathering data in the Australian outback

How about any tips and tricks?

I think that the main point is to keep on collecting data. Even if you have been a place before, going back and making new measurements will help provide a historical record across a timeline. The bGeigie has been so simple to use and also to loan out to others. Australia being such a large country, and I have been lucky to find people going on trips to the furthest points of Australia, which are well outside normal places travelled in Australia.

A lesson learned on one trip that a friend took is that lengthening the cable I had provided can cause a fault in the charger. After 40 hours, we lost recording, which was a real shame as the journey took him across Australia to Perth including sections of Maralinga where the British conducted above ground nuclear bomb tests in the 1950’s. We tried to fix it via satellite phone but didn’t have the tools or a spare lipo cell for replacement. Once he got to Perth, I was able to get my brother to repair it and get it going again and we have had no troubles since then, but I would suggest for people doing remote work to take a spare lipo cell.

For the purpose of longer trips, I have made a charging circuit that allows the battery to charge while underway and can be run permanently on the vehicles power supply. The charging system is simply an external single cell lipo charger – similar to this  –  and is wired separately directly to the lipo, and has a USB extension lead allowing it to be plugged into the vehicles power outlets using a 12V to 5V adapter. I have done this to make it as easy use for trips that can take weeks at a time. I have also used modified cases that have a Ram Mount suction cap and articulated arm to allow for mounting to the vehicle so that it’s not swinging in the breeze.

Other than that, it’s just keep spreading the word on how important open data is and how it can help provide information that can be relied upon.

The bGeigie Diaries is a series of articles aimed at sharing some of the amazing work and data collection carried out by Safecast volunteers across the globe. The articles will hopefully serve as inspiration, a way of sharing knowledge and inspiration about geigies and citizen science.