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Can the GammaPix Android app really save your life?

by Marty Gabel

A new app just hit the Google Play store from Image Insights Inc. and it’s certainly unique.

GammaPix Lite is the first app available that can be used to detect levels of radiation using your device’s camera, and it isn’t a toy. Although the app is exclusive to Android right now, an iOS version should follow soon. Professional versions for use by first responders are also in the works.

So how does all of this really work?

I download the app on the Samsung Galaxy Note and the first thing that greets you is an enormously lengthy terms of service agreement. After all, this is an app that does something a little bit out of the ordinary. Though it is specifically designed for use by civilians to detect radiation levels in normal situations (like airplanes or contaminated products), the legal team at Image Insights obviously had to cover every possible situation where there could be certain ramifications if the app is misused. In other words, Image Insight isn’t liable if you’re foolish enough to use this app in a truly hazardous situation!

A few bumps in the road getting started

Once you’ve agreed to sign your life away, you still won’t be able to play with the app immediately. You need to ‘initialize’ the device for approximately 20 minutes with the phone plugged in (ideally), in an area known to be without radiation with the camera lens covered. Unfortunately, the app doesn’t have “specific calibration” for the Note yet, so I tried it on the HTC Rezound instead. Alas, same story, but I expect this will change with future updates, and more downloads and calibrations.

Then, the app goes through a lengthy ‘measuring background’ process. I noticed that both devices automatically turn on ‘Airplane Mode’ when reading/measuring so this is not an app to use if you’re expecting a phone call. That option can be changed, but it avoids interference from radios transmitters when activated. Again, I had to leave the devices flat on the desk with the cameras covered. The completion bar moved quite slowly as I eagerly anticipated the readings. “Eagerly anticipated” may be the wrong term. I mean, who’s going to be genuinely excited to discover that there are high levels of radiation at their desk?

Once the bar reached the 100 percent level on the Rezound, I was greeted with a force close... sigh (second time round, it worked fine). Once the bar reached the 100 percent level on the Galaxy Note, I was told that I could now properly check for radioactivity – huzzah!

All clear over here

Fortunately, the readings here were within safe limits, somewhere between 1μSv/hr and 10 μSV/hr, and I was informed that there was “no immediate action required.” Of course, to cover themselves legally, the app recommends you exercise caution if you do believe you’re somewhere unsafe and verify such results using independent measurements.

So there you go. I think it works. I might take it to the hospital next time I visit, or even try it on an airplane. The app has a neat “about” section that tells you lots of useful information about Gamma radiation, the technology behind the app, analysis, result interpretation and so on. The technology used in the GammaPix app is sensitive enough to detect dangerously high levels of radiation, within seconds. This enables action can be taken immediately, so it seems like this is one Android app that could prove truly useful in the future.

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