THP Hacker Bio: Radu.motisan


Here’s a great example of thinking big while keeping it simple. [Radu Motisan‘s] putting together a global radiation monitoring network as his entry in The Hackaday Prize.

The simplicity comes in the silver box pictured above. This houses the Geiger tube which measures radiation levels. The box does three things: hangs on a wall somewhere, plugs into Ethernet and power, and reports measurements so that the data can be combined with info from all other functioning units.

After seeing the idea we wanted to know more about [Radu]. His answers to our slate of queries are found below.


Like it often happens, it’s a combination of several hobbies that keeps me in motion. I started with computer science 22 years ago when I was 10, added electronics and chemistry while I was still in my early years, physics and math later in highschool, and then back to computer science for my university studies and later on for my job.

What is Your Profession?

I am a mobile software architect in a private company, it’s the equivalent of a software expert. It’s a title I got to earn after 10 years of experience in my field.

What is Your Passion?

This gets very close to my hobbies, but goes on a slightly different path. I have a passion for knowledge, for life and for the people I care for. If life was not limited I would be fully satisfied. Finding a balance to these, is probably one of my biggest (utopian) dream.

Piece of Equipment You'd Go "Office Space" On?

Thanks for getting me back to Earth. Slow computers I had to deal with, buggy mobile phones and all in one technology that annoys me instead of helping me, would surely deserve to be a good target for uber destruction. But I love my equipment and tools and I would never do them harm. I’ve also scrapped many items to get what I needed when components were hard to find, so I’m not sure I could do this.

Favorite Operating System?

macOSMac OS. Because it does a good job while others just try to (and usually fail). I also like small/dedicated RTOS-es that are quick and efficient.

Favorite Bench Equipment?

My macbook pro for software and my oscope. Because that’s what I use most and they help me with my tasks more than any other tools. Oh, and I almost forget about my cross screwdriver (it fits the same criteria).

Favorite Piece of Silicon?

I’m a big fan of microcontrollers, as a software developer I’d say they put the “elegant” attribute to electronics. I’ve used AVRs a lot and I still do.

Favorite Programming Language?

C because it makes the Earth spin. And all the others, as I had the time to use most of them. I am fond of the saying “the right tool for the right job”. I apply this when deciding what’s the best language and similar things.

Three Projects Before You Die?

  1. An exoskeleton for when getting old.
  2. Learning biology from the software point of view: the telomeres, cell production codes, DNA damage errors, all in one learning to understand ageing as a software bug (or as a disease that needs a cure).
  3. assuming (2) is doable in my lifespan, this last project would probably be taking my wife on a trip to a neighboring galaxy in a few hundred years from now :-)

Skill You Wish Everyone Would Learn?

Computer programming and soldering, but you probably knew I would say that.

How Did You Pick Your THP Project Idea?

uradmonitor-gutsI had to think big for a prize of this size, but I also had to keep my sense of reality so the balance was to pick something doable in the given timeframe, as I wanted to present a complete and working solution. Among my ongoing projects, the global radiation network (uRadMonitor) was the best candidate. It’s complex, has scientific and commercial value (so it can be implemented), and brings good to humanity.

Any Tough Stuff You Need Advice On?

I’d love some advise on the hardware production, tips on better design and optimisation, everything that could be put to some practical use for this project. I did make a lot of progress on my own, but some educated tips and know-how are always good to get.

THP Project You'd Like Someone Else to Build?

Yes, the exoskeleton idea would be nice to be put to practice, in order to come with a final product what would be reliable and truly helpful to those in need. This would probably be the thing I’d focus on, should I have the time. The power supply is an issue, but for the rest I’d dare to challenge all and fight for a solution. Lots of sensors, pneumatic actuators for all the main muscles and lots of lines of code / clever software, what a spicy and intriguing combination!

Your Life in Exactly 5 Words?

I love it all, thanks!

What Else Ya' Got?

I think I said enough, the beer’s gone and so are the hours. But I’d like to say thanks in the name of the entire community for the THP thing. It’s a great contest, but this is only the label. What’s inside is a great motivation for people all around the world to invest in technology, to dream high and to put their resources into designing some truly amazing things. And this is a gain for the entire humanity. We need more of these things, more support for research, more investments in technology. It’s our best bet for a better tomorrow, and for creating true value. THANK YOU!

46 thoughts on “THP Hacker Bio: Radu.motisan

  1. The only problem is that you can not measure radiation in air with a geiger tube.
    It will only pickup radition changes if someone passes by (very close to the tube) having radiating material in his pockets.
    But maybe it can be used as a global mesh to track radiating sources passing by…

      1. The 1-2mm enclosure is made out of aluminium. It is transparent (like glass) to radiation of energies above 40-50keV, and most of the nuclear sources go way beyond that.

        1. This exact phenomenon is studied in any physics undergrad curriculum. Just search Google for “beta decay absorption length aluminum” and you’ll see several (at least 6 on the first page) labs to study absorption of materials (like aluminum foil). If you are only concerned with gamma radiation, then your enclosure might not matter much. It will, however, absorb a significant number of beta particles, up to at least 500keV (the maximum energy of the beta particles from Cs-137 beta decay). I’m sure you could empirically determine the effect of the enclosure with a simple experiment.

          (Disclaimer: It is been about a year since I took a particle physics course, so sorry if I’m just blowing steam. I did however do a couple minutes of research before replying to ensure that I’m at least on the right track.)

    1. Not quite so. Air is a carrier for contaminated dust, nuclear fallout, black rain, rain dissolving radioisotopes, etc that eventually fall back to Earth and cover whatever find their path: including the uRADMonitor detectors. This is why the general practice is to have such monitoring stations mounted 1 meter above ground level, to be able to detect any radiation emitted from the particles covering the ground.

      So in all these cases, should an accident happen somewhere on Earth, we would quickly get to see an increasing trend, strongly influenced by weather factors.

      The 1-2mm enclosure is made out of aluminium. It is transparent (like glass) to radiation of energies above 40-50keV, and most of the nuclear sources go way beyond that.

      This is just a very simple argument to demonstrate the way this network was designed to work, and yes it would function extremely well in detecting variations caused by nuclear incidents and the influence by weather (wind, rain) if enough stations are available.

      1. Be aware of what kind of radiation your looking for. When you speak of keV your speaking of mear energy. Aluminum will block alpha(helium nuclei) and beta radiation(free electron) pretty easily, skin/paper blocking the former. 40-50keV is near gamma x-rays. If your that close to source of that energy very long, you won’t need a geiger counter, you’ll get radiation sickness. A geiger tube although is designed to detect alpha, beta and gamma radiation (not electromagnetic radiation), along with x-rays (electromagnetic radiation). True gamma radiation is a free neutron, ie particle/Hadron, gamma rays is electromagnetic radiation, ie photon/Boson, which directly correlates to eV, at 100keV. From the way you speak, it sounds like your looking for x-rays and gamma-rays, which you could pick up some, but not much if ever. Oxygen absorbs x-rays quite efficiently, and gamma rays, yikes, you’d have to be near to radioactive material in decay to get any if at all. About the only thing it will detect is gamma radiation from neutrino decay, which is about all a person should ever want to see on a geiger counter.

        1. Some of what you say is true, however some is not. It takes about 3mm thick aluminum (1/8th inch) to block beta. Ask me how I know… I own several geiger counters and test sources. I can demonstrate this fact easily. We do get plenty of gamma from outer space and earth’s granite sources. My energy compensated / beta shielded Canberra UltraRadiac demonstrates this nicely on a drive down the freeway. The rads vary anywhere from 5 uR to 27 uR (microRoentgens) within just a few miles of driving. Sometimes it will swing up to triple or quadruple the natural background or more from a solar flare or other anomaly. No big deal. What Radu is doing is a good thing and raising people’s awareness globally. If there is a radiological “event” / disaster in the area around one of his detectors – it will show up if it’s significant enough to be even of mild concern, (Beta/Gamma/X-ray only of course). Alpha would not make it through the aluminum and is really not the focus anyway. You need a more expensive pancake probe to detect alpha contamination, and yes I have one of those too.

    2. unclekyky is correct is application, i haven’t check his figures so I can’t speak for them, but a geiger tube can pick up more than just a few feet away? Go to your local university, and ask the physics professor to turn a geiger counter on for you, you’ll hear it click, and no one has radiative material within a couple feet. Its from neutrino decay, high energy particles, and radiation coming from the sun. The particles are traving at the speed of light which when collide with our atmosphere create high energy particles, which normally would instanly decay but because they are traveling at near speed of light, their relativistic time lapse is such they stike the ground and go deeper.

    3. Atomic, your statement is incorrect. Beta, Gamma, and X-ray will sail right on through that aluminum shell like butter. It takes 3mm thick aluminum to stop Beta. Gamma will not be effected much by it at all. Why do people who know nothing about rads like to post such nonsense? Things that make you go hmmmm….

        1. @Dave : make an universal sensor IP monitor, with add-on capabilities (for yourself, an hygro+temp sensor board). Others will then find more and more usages….

  2. Fix ageing instead of converting ones self to a machine? hmmm
    Did I skim too fast or is there not a schematic and firmware link around? Id be interested to set up 3 of these in my area if I could get the gieger tubes.

    1. Can’t distribute it as a kit yet, and can’t allow others to build it, simply because in that case erroneous constructions or improperly calibrated tubes would corrupt the data and the network. One of the things I see different in uRadMonitor is that the data is consistent, and calibrated to the same reference, so readings from all around the globe get to mean something even for small variations.
      But I am aware that pushing it as open source / a kit is the way to go if I want it to spread, I just haven’t found a solution on how to do it yet.

      Probably an open network with a score attributed to indicate the sanity of a given source, or a way to check a device based on other readings in close proximity would be a good solution, but I need to think more.

      Also, in case you have any ideas, would be happy to hear them.

      1. My gieger ref is really old (50’s or 60’s) and I have no idea if its even on spec anymore. :-)
        I’m just glad when I can find it, knowing its just *somewhere* spooks me a little. 0.9mrad I think…

      2. To calibrate, use standard sources. Ship them with the kit. Then programmatically adjust results. Once you get enough devices, error checking should be easy.

        Also, 1. Make this a wireless device, 2. Only report periodic averages, 3. Report spikes and other exceptions. This means that the time base data (period) should be part of the data.

        1. Shipping radioactive materials, almost no matter how low energy, is a nightmare. I doubt he would be able to internationally without considerable effort.

          I do second wireless though! or Bluetooth to a receiver that can do the communication to the global network. Else something like this would probably work:

  3. It is a bit silly that people keep building specific networks for specific sensors. What is needed is to use a standard network protocol like 6LowPAN and have any type of sensor communicate over the network.

      1. The first station I’ve built, have most of those and more, see:

        For the uRADMonitor network I had to keep costs down (just think of how expensive a Geiger tube is, no place to add more cost to this). But an upgrade of these devices will use the BMP085 (temperature/pressure/estimated altitude) instead of the current DS18B20 (only temperature) (yes, the uRadMonitor devices also track temperature, but it is the internal temperature, inside the enclosure).

  4. Cool project, I like it. I have a similar project that is unnecessarily complicated and powered over ethernet. It uses STM32, logs to SD, has web page, etc. perhaps it could work with your network. I haven’t done much with it lately.

    I think the next revision will be somewhat simplified, if I ever get the time…

  5. Nice project.
    Check out though.
    They have built both mobile and fixed sensor networks and have loads of experience specific to radiation.

    Short answer, turns out fixed sensors are effectively useless.

    In a time when lab quality data was expensive, tools expensive, scientific labor was expensive, sure. A few fixed sensors are better than nothing.
    But as costs and technical difficulties dropped it became clear that there are better solutions.

    A whole lot of history has been made since 3/11.

    I do think a certain amount of fixed sensors are needed for daily monitoring but they won’t tell you much, and actually give false assumptions.

  6. Could this work with power over Ethernet seeing as it goes out side similar to a wifi repeater a one cable installation given cable distance might be a useful feature.

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