Tokyo HackerSpace describes itself as “an open community lab, studio, workbench, sewing circle, machine shop+” for people into “technology, building things, gardening, cooking, science, sewing, digital art, [and] gaming+.” In more concrete terms, THS is a rented house between Ebisu and Meguro where every surface is piled with soldering guns, circuit boards and packing foam. Even the window is obscured by a self-watering hanging garden made of repurposed bottles, containers and tubing. Part of a global movement, the group’s twenty-some members pay a monthly fee to keep the materials for their projects there. Until now, that has meant sewing supplies, electronics, tool boxes and a semi-functioning electronic piano. Since the March 11 earthquake and tsunami, sheets of solar panels and boxes of geiger counters and their components have taken a prominent place among the organized chaos of the HackerSpace.
Tokyo HackerSpace is currently working on three main projects to help the people affected by the disasters. The one that’s received the most attention is Safecast, a project with international backing designed to provide independent radiation readings throughout Fukushima prefecture, with plans to expand beyond there later. Pieter Franken, one of the project’s leaders at THS, said, “Ideally we’d have stationary monitors placed throughout the region, but there’s a worldwide shortage of geiger counters right now.” For now, the group has created mobile monitors they call “bento geigies,” for the way the parts pack neatly into their plastic box. International Medcom donated 10 geiger counters that cost hundreds of dollars each. The hackers have bundled them with GPS loggers, wifi devices and custom circuitry that outputs the data stream to a laptop to create roving broadcasting kits that can be mounted on cars to “take radiation readings the way Google street view takes photos,” Franken said. (While the circuitry seemed seamless, two of the hackers looked a little unsure about whether the nylon straps they’d attached to the kit would be long enough to attach it to the car, lent by a local dealer.) The data is going up on Safecast.org, the organization’s own site and also to pachube, an open-source map displaying all kinds of global environmental data.