Perhaps a tinfoil hat would help?
March 27, 2013 5:40 PM   Subscribe

I need to determine how much radiation a head-mounted camera is giving off, and I don't know where to start.

I study language acquisition and am planning a study in which we put a head-mounted cameras on a child's head for several hours a week, hopefully for several years, just following them in their normal life. The goal is to get a much richer set of data about what kind of linguistic and visual input children see over that time, and how that input relates to what they learn. I am on top of all of the scientific and ethical issues involved with doing a study of this sort, but one thing stumps me...

The camera. We are considering using this camera. It (or things like it) have been used in the few other studies that use head-mounted cameras on babies, but those generally are one-offs; there are no studies that have put a camera on a baby's head this often or for this long.

As a result, I want to really make sure that the camera isn't emitting any radiation that could, over the long term, be bad for the baby (especially since it will be worn on the head). I am pretty sure the device doesn't transmit (video is saved on a USB) so that is a major potential source of radiation that I can eliminate (I think).

I wrote to the support people for the camera but they said they don't know if it is emitting anything, and if so, what it is emitting. Now I'm kind of stuck. I googled around about EMF detectors, which led me down a rabbit's hole of lots of detectors (and lots of paranoid people) along with the realization that I don't even know what I'd be looking for or what a safe level is.

So, here are my questions:

1. Am I being overly paranoid? Do these kind of cameras emit anything at all?

2. If I were to get one of these EMF detectors, what radiation should I look for? What is a safe level?

3. Is there another way to find this out without buying one of these detectors?

4. If not, what kind of detector should I get? (Assume that I can pay for some reasonably-priced one through a grant, but spending more than a couple of hundred dollars will be difficult to justify unless I can give a solid argument of why I need that additional functionality).

5. Does anyone have suggestions for how I could make it safer to be worn on the head? (e.g., tinfoil hat / surrounding the camera with something / etc)

I would really appreciate anyone who can help in any way with this. I'm feeling pretty lost here, and most of me thinks that any radiation from this sort of camera will be totally dwarfed by what we are surrounded by every day... but I do want to do due diligence, given the potential stakes.

Anonymous because if this study does get run and published, people who found this question would be able to link my metafilter account to my name and I don't want that.
posted by anonymous to Technology (7 answers total)
 
People who complain about EM radiation generally do so in the context of mobile phones, which generate a fair bit of EM radiation by design - they have to communicate with a tower many metres away. If they didn't do that, they wouldn't work.

This camera does not seem to contain any radio hardware at all, so it's not going to be in even the same league as those devices which people stick to their heads a lot.

I'd stop at your point 1 and not worry at all.
posted by pompomtom at 5:58 PM on March 27, 2013


1. Am I being overly paranoid? Do these kind of cameras emit anything at all?

They do not emit any ionizing radiation, which is generally considered to be the major concern in terms of health risk. Just about any piece of modern electronics is going to emit some amount of electromagnetic radiation in the radio frequency band, but unless this device has a radio transmitter or a motor, these levels of radiation will be tiny. I don't think the Muvi has WiFi, does it? If it in fact has no WiFi, it will emit very, very tiny levels of radio frequency radiation. I'm not sure you'll be able to detect them.

That said, the FAA considers similar levels of radio frequency radiation to be a significant enough concern to ban the use of portable electronic devices during takeoff and landing. But a lot of people consider this ridiculous.

2. If I were to get one of these EMF detectors, what radiation should I look for? What is a safe level?

You're right that you're getting into tinfoil hat territory here. I'm not sure I'd trust anything linked to on that page.

3. Is there another way to find this out without buying one of these detectors?

4. If not, what kind of detector should I get? (Assume that I can pay for some reasonably-priced one through a grant, but spending more than a couple of hundred dollars will be difficult to justify unless I can give a solid argument of why I need that additional functionality).


If you want to be rigorous about it, I'd use a spectrum analyzer hooked up to an antenna. This will be expensive; over $10k.

5. Does anyone have suggestions for how I could make it safer to be worn on the head? (e.g., tinfoil hat / surrounding the camera with something / etc)

Really if it doesn't have a radio transmitter, it will produce truly minuscule amounts of radiation. Even if it did produce significant radio frequency radiation, there's no strong evidence that such radiation is harmful to human health.
posted by mr_roboto at 6:00 PM on March 27, 2013 [2 favorites]


I don't think EMF should be an issue at all, but I have no idea about ergonomic issues due to weight or possibly heat, and I don't know how you would convince a review board or parent that you are on top of this. I'm beginning to wonder if you might consider getting some kind of medical oversight for a study like this.
posted by PercussivePaul at 6:01 PM on March 27, 2013 [1 favorite]


mr_roboto covered the ionizing vs. non-ionizing issue.

I'm not a doctor, but I'd be far more worried about the impact of strapping a thing to a young child's head for hours at a time. The skull is very soft for the first few years of a child's life, you don't want to create a camera-shaped divot in each of these kids' heads.
I'm beginning to wonder if you might consider getting some kind of medical oversight for a study like this.
This is probably a really good idea. The average parent may not have the kind of sciences background that allows them to immediately grasp the difference between radiation that does and doesn't ionize, and you might not be comfortable explaining it. A statement from a respected medical professional may be the best way to move forward.
posted by b1tr0t at 6:06 PM on March 27, 2013


I'm a medical physicist. There's nothing a standard issue camera can radiate that will affect anyone's health. Even if it has WiFi or bluetooth or whatever there's no evidence of any short or long term effects from exposure to radiofrequencies. And even people who believe that they are damaging see it as something that adds up over decades, not days or weeks.

All that being said, you're running this past some kind of ethics review board, right?
posted by no regrets, coyote at 6:58 PM on March 27, 2013


From the OP:
Thank you for your advice. It looks like I was indeed being overly paranoid, which is nice to know. I am aware of other possible medical issues like the ergonomics. I am also indeed running this by a review board: part of why I asked the question is that I wanted to know what I would tell the ethics board about any potential radiation-related issues if they asked.

If anybody has any contradictory information to what has been posted, please do share. Otherwise I will consider this question answered. Thank you again.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 7:33 PM on March 27, 2013


FWIW, I bought what looks to be exactly the same camera for about $25. There's others which are smaller.
The FCC certifies electronics for EMR, here's a discussion about testing, and here's a report on the effectivness of tinfoil hats.
IANAEE, but I think you have no worries about EMR from the camera, a wireless baby monitor would likely put out more EMR. What you should consider is battery life, as it's probably not good for more than an hour. A spypen might yield a better camera, combined with your own lithium battery.
posted by Sophont at 7:41 PM on March 27, 2013


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