Local tech company Oceanit and the Honolulu Hackerspace group HI Capacity are collaborating to help Japan with its radiation problems after the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Plant this past March. They recently met up with Peiter Franken one of the co-founders of an organization called Safecast that is helping to map out the zones in Japan that are affected by the radiation fallout. Safecast's mission is to empower people with data, primarily by building a sensor network and enabling to both contribute and freely use the data. One of the main issues is that there aren't enough Geiger counters to survey all of Japan for radiation particles. Franken is working with grassroots programmer groups like the Hackerspace in Tokyo and LA to help build the necessary sensor tools. In Hawaii, Ian Kitajima, Marketing Director at Oceanit drove around central Oahu and Waikiki testing out one of the "bento box" Geigers called bGeigie built by the Tokyo Hackerspace. Kitajima told Bytemarks Cafe, "It is a multifaceted problem and Safecast is looking for a variety of ways to get this technology in the hands of the Japanese citizen." According to Franken, the Tokyo group built 15 of these bGeigie units and volunteer groups are driving around the affected region taking readings. They are also looking at both stationary and mobile sensors. The LA group Crashspace is building a geiger counter interface for the iPhone called the iGeigie. Back at home, Ryan Kanno said that the Honolulu Hackerspace group is looking at ways they can help aggregate the data into a central website. This would allow field workers to easily upload their data for instant analysis and visualization.
It's testament to Pat Sullivan for not only lasting 25 years in Hawaii but to actually grow Oceanit and thrive in this arguably isolated market. I remember visiting him some 20 years ago in a small one-man office in downtown Honolulu. Now they command an entire 6th floor space in the Oceanit Center on Fort St. Mall and are expanding on the ground floor to accommodate their lab. The projects they take on seem to have no boundaries. On one side of the floor is Hoana Medical where they develop and market the Lifegurney. Think of Star Trek's Sick Bay beds that read your vital signs as you lie there. On another floor in the Oceanit Lab, work is going on to develop nanoparticles consisting of nanatubes that are filled with toxins. The design of these nanoparticles make them seek out specific cancer cells upon which they bind and inject their toxic payload, killing the cancer cells. In the photo above, programmers have devised a way to read your heart rate by placing your finger on the camera lens of your iPhone. The approach is novel enough to be patentable. In the growing market for personal activity and health monitors this would be a must have. During the short program, Pat Sullivan talked about being disruptive and finding new ways to use technology to make a difference. But it's not only about being smart with technology but it is also about being smart with the connections that will get you there. Obviously Hawaii is a big Department of Defense location and the right Federal connections are important in making the equation work out. Each of the Hawaii delegation to Washington DC were on hand to talk about tech in Hawaii and Oceanit in particular. US Rep. Mazie Hirono, Sen. Daniel Akaka and Sen. Daniel Inouye each spoke. Sen Inouye brought attention to earmarks which he has been publicly criticized for. If you listen to his talk, about 30 minutes into the video, he is no where near giving up on this tool for Federal funding of special projects. All in all a delightful, thought provoking evening about what it takes to survive and thrive in Hawaii's technology industry.