There have been quite a few “radiation detection” applications for smart phones that have come out. These claim to turn your smartphone into a radiation detection device without the need for any additional hardware. We looked at one app claiming to be able to detect gamma rays via your smartphone camera.
The issue of newer technology and radiation detection gets a bit complicated. There are devices that can plug into a smartphone. These involve some form of actual radiation detection device that uses the phone to visualize and process the data coming out of the plug in device. There have been a number of DIY plug in radiation detectors coming out of various hacker and DIY communities. These are different that the smartphone only apps. Make Magazine looks at some of these DIY plug in radiation detectors that actually work. The Pocket Geiger is an example of a plug in radiation detection device that uses your phone to visualize the information it captures.
Then there are smartphone apps that claim they can detect radiation with just your phone. We looked at the GammaPix smartphone app. The company doesn’t tell how it detects radiation in their promotional materials. Once you download the app they explain further. They claim that gamma radiation can be detected as pixel flashes on the smartphone’s camera after creating a “baseline” by running app with the camera covered with tape.
The company claims this app was invented in cooperation with various US government agencies. They also claim Oak Ridge National Lab “successfully tested” their smartphone app and that it detected radiation in seconds. The company provides no evidence on their website to back up this claim. Our research showed Oak Ridge National Lab has looked into using smart phones to quickly share radiation detection data. It did not use smartphone apps to do so in the particular project we found and had the assumption of a detection device being used. We were not able to find any public data on GammaPix’s claims of working with ORNL or that their app was tested there.
The claims are questionable. As far as the app, radiation can disrupt film and digital cameras. Most have seen the white pixel laden videos from inside unit 2’s containment. But could a camera on a phone pick up the type of radiation found normally or in a hot spot in Japan? Opinions ranged from “Impossible” to “skeptical” among various group members. We could not find solid evidence confirming that low levels of gamma radiation could be picked up by a smartphone camera. If it could it would likely be too inaccurate to obtain any sort of meaningful reading as so many things other than radiation can cause white-out pixels or similar disruptions in a phone camera. There is also no way to calibrate the camera vs. a known radiation source to assure a reading would be within an accurate range.
GammaPix isn’t the only smartphone app out there claiming to use the phone camera to detect radiation but at least it is free.
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