It’s so small that it could easily be mistaken for a small pack of mints. In fact, if you actually have a packet of Frisk on you hang on to it, it’ll come in handy.

Pocket Geiger, one of many gadgets on display at the Maker Faire Tokyo 2012 last weekend, is a handheld radiation detector developed by engineers and scientists belonging to “Radiation-watch.org” — a pro bono project aimed at making high-quality radiation monitoring easier, cheaper and more citizen-oriented.

Founder Yang Ishigaki said the device uses tiny PIN photodiodes, which are commonly used as light sensors for infrared remote-control devices but can also pick up Gamma-ray radiation.

“We do all of our manufacturing at a factory in Ishinomaki (in Miyagi Prefecture) that was a longtime Sony subcontractor until it was hit by the (March 2011) tsunami,” Ishigaki said.

“So far we’ve sold about 20,000 units, and have helped keep the jobs of 30 people there.”

The group started production in the summer of 2011, and three versions of the Geiger counters are now available — ranging from the cheapest DIY model, which fits into an empty Frisk mints case (¥1,850, without the case), to the latest model with a high-quality sensor and a sleek, metallic case (¥6,450).

The Pocket Geiger can be hooked to smart phones to show aerial radiation levels in as short as two minutes. The detectors have been certified by the Dutch Metrology Institute, which conducted the calibration tests. Users can upload and share data using a free iPhone/Android application. So far, data from around a million locations across eastern Japan have been shared, Ishigaki said. “Lately, many businesses and universities have shown interest,” he said. “They say they need to set up a lot more monitoring posts on (contaminated) farmlands and forests. We would like to eventually shift our services to such demands.”

For more information, visit www.radiation-watch.org/p/english.html

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