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Most people overestimate what they can achieve in a year and underestimate what they can achieve in ten years. – Bill Gates

Before it was the largest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl, it was a tsunami. Waves reached heights over 40 meters, traveled at 700 km/h and moved 10 kilometers inland before receding. Before it was a tsunami, it was a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, the largest ever recorded in Japan, and the fourth-most powerful since modern record-keeping started in 1900.

That tsunami, which occurred exactly ten years ago today, resulted in over 20,000 deaths and displaced hundreds of thousands of families, some for years. It also led to Level 7 meltdowns of three reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Plant complex. Residents within 20 kilometers of the plants were quickly evacuated and the world watched, waited, and worried if another Chernobyl disaster was in the making.

An image of a ruined building in the wake of the Fukushima nuclear disaster.
Thousands of families were displaced in the wake of the disaster

Safecast & The Decade of Global Collaboration

But unlike Chernobyl, the effects of which were hidden from the global scientific community for years, the news of the disaster spread rapidly. Once informed, a confederation of citizen scientists responded to the crisis and its resulting challenges over email, chat, discussion threads, and video calls.

Even if one were to set aside the political realities of the Cold War, the infrastructure for democratized global communication did not exist when the Chernobyl disaster occurred in 1986. Likewise, had Fukushima occurred just a decade earlier the community response would have been much slower. Global broadband was only just beginning its upward climb in 2001, and there would be no video collaboration tools to speak of until 2003.

But Fukushima happened on March 11, 2011, and in the ten years between 2001 and 2011, humanity built a broadband, cloud-backed, global communications infrastructure that made real-time dissemination of news and remote collaboration possible. In just a decade, we possessed the ability to be informed about, and respond to, a crisis in moments. We put ourselves on the Internet, and it was the existence of this infrastructure that allowed the original Safecast team to form: first to connect, check-in, and help, and then to solve a new set of problems just beginning to emerge from the disaster.

The IoT & The Decade of Global Insight

The biggest problem that citizens on the ground and the global scientific community faced in the early days of Fukushima was access to information. The government and local utilities had a view of the situation on the ground, but did not share it. The rest of the world could only guess at the extent of the damage or the safety of the surrounding area.

In a decade, we’d connected ourselves to each other over the internet, but the world and environment around us was still a mystery. And it was this world that Safecast was formed to change, first by deploying geiger counters and radiation detection devices, then by expanding to air quality monitoring. And over the last decade, Safecast has deployed 5,000 radiation and air quality monitoring devices in 102 countries, collecting over 66,000 measurements each day.

Screenshot the live map at Safecast.org
The live device map at Safecast.org

That’s 5,000 spots on the globe with a better sense of their air quality than 10 years ago. 5,000 locations where citizens know if the air outside is safe, and where data about their environment is as accessible as a friend over a video call.

Over that same decade, the cost of sensors, silicon, PCBs, and radios continued to drop, and a growing landscape of maker- and developer-friendly tools ushered in a Cambrian explosion of connected devices as the hype of the IoT gave way to reality. And it was in response to the still extant challenges in this space that led Ray Ozzie to start Blues Wireless and build the Notecard.

Introducing the Airnote

After 10 years, 5,000 devices and millions of data points collected, organizations like Safecast do not consider their job complete. If anything, just as the democratization of broadband and the cloud laid the groundwork for the IoT, the last decade has been a beta test of the value humanity can extract by adding devices to our environment. A test that has been wildly successful, as environmental data from open datasets is being used to inform scientific research, shape policy, and help every day citizens understand their world.

And so, the partnership that began among Safecast volunteers globally, including Ray Ozzie, has evolved into a partnership between Safecast and Blues Wireless. Over the past two years, as we’ve been working to bring developer-friendly, no-fees cellular IoT to market with the Notecard, we’ve continued to work alongside the Safecast team to help them get ready for their next 5,000 devices, and beyond.

Today, we are excited to announce the launch of Airnote, a zero-configuration air quality monitoring device. Powered by the Notecard, Notehub.io and the Safecast network, the Airnote is designed to allow anyone who wants insight into their local air quality, or who is interested in contributing to a growing, global picture of air quality, to purchase and deploy a device in minutes.

Close-up photo of the Airnote.

We built the Airnote with consumers in mind. It’s a high-precision device in an affordable package. It counts air particulate matter wherever it is deployed and uses the Notehub.io cloud service to route air quality data to the Safecast global dataset. It includes a high-quality solar panel that’s tuned to keep the device charged and can be mounted to an exterior window in a home, building, or community center.

Close-up photo of the Airnote.

Alongside Safecast, our goal with the Airnote is to make air quality measurement devices that work for everyone. Our hope is that, over the next decade, we can help connect humanity to the environment around us in the same way that we connected to each other in the last one.

Just imagine what we could do by 2031.

To learn more about the Airnote, visit the product page. To purchase your own device, visit the Blues Wireless shop. To learn more about Safecast, join us for a live-streamed driving tour of Fukushima and the surrounding communities on March 13, 2021. The tour will pay tribute to the 10th anniversary of the Fukushima disaster and Safecast’s founding. The day-long event starts on Saturday, March 13 at 9 am JST (Friday, March 12 at 7 pm EST) and will be broadcast live via YouTube.

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