Artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm wanted to know: what would Wi-Fi look like if we could see those waves pulsing the network to our computers.

With the help of a NASA astrobiologist, Lamm used 3-D shapes taken from a Washington, D.C. government map to recreate the size and frequency of the waves.

Wi-Fi is an energy field with a frequency shorter than radio waves but longer than microwaves.

Wi-Fi waves are about three to five inches between crests, which a computer reads as "1." (The troughs of the wave are read as "0.")

Wi-Fi routers can attach almost anywhere--buildings, lamp posts, trees, or anything else that allows the signal to radiate outward, Vogel writes. Trees or buildings can obstruct the waves, on the other hand, which is why multiple routers were used to create a field across the entire National Mall.

2013-07-24

This Is What Wi-Fi Would Look Like, If We Could See It

If our airborne Internet wasn’t invisible, it might look something like these colorful energy fields.

Even though Wi-Fi is invisible, we know when it’s not working. Some people have even developed a bat-like sense of guessing where the signal is strongest and moving their laptops to that specific coffee shop table. But artist and researcher Nickolay Lamm wanted to know: what would Wi-Fi look like if we could see those waves pulsing the network to our computers? "I did a Google search that asked, 'What if we could see Wi-Fi?' and I couldn’t find anything, so I decided to make my own," Lamm says.

That search eventually produced these images of what Wi-Fi would look like on the National Mall, which Lamm posted on MyDeals.com. With the help of a NASA astrobiologist, Lamm used 3-D shapes taken from a Washington, D.C. government map to recreate the size and frequency of the waves. As for the NASA connection, Lamm explains that he simply put out a call for help on Craigslist. M. Browning Vogel, an astrobiology Ph.D. who worked at NASA Ames for five years, helped Lamm out.

"She provided all the details. I made sure that she approved of the images, and essentially what happened is that she guided me through the whole illustrated process to make sure they were scientifically accurate as possible," Lamm says.

Vogel explains that Wi-Fi is an energy field with a frequency shorter than radio waves but longer than microwaves. Wi-Fi waves are about three to five inches between crests, which a computer reads as "1." (The troughs of the wave are read as "0.") That information then translates into the chains of binary code that dictate the Internet. Lamm and Vogel decided to use red, orange, and yellow to show the distinct Wi-Fi channels, or segments, that make up a spherical field, which can reach 20 to 30 meters from a typical Wi-Fi box.

Wi-Fi routers can attach almost anywhere—buildings, lamp posts, trees, or anything else that allows the signal to radiate outward, Vogel writes. Trees or buildings can obstruct the waves, on the other hand, which is why multiple routers were used to create a field across the entire National Mall.

This isn’t the first time that Lamm has translated his own scientific curiosity into easily digested, and often viral, images. This past month, Lamm reconstructed a Barbie doll with "lifelike" proportions. He also recently visualized what New York City, and other cities, would look like underwater.

"Internet people like myself, they want to get the most information in the least amount of time, and I feel when you combine images with scientific research it’s really interesting," Lamm says. "I try to make images that people have never seen before. All you need is your own creativity and a new perspective on things."

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9 Comments

  • Richard Ellicott

    this again?!?!

    it would blatantly look like particles not waves!!!!

    we decided this didn't we, round ball things that *behave* wavelike... sheesh

  • Edwin FM

    This is frequency pollution. Support the continuation and completion of Fibre To The Home in your community. There is no telling what effect all the harmonics are having on our environment and biology. The future of Wi-Fi technology could be devastating to life as we know it on this planet. 

  • Mike Moss

    I believe our attitudes also have frequency, like sound waves that impact those around us. Dogs hear on a different frequency. Cats see on a different spectrum. What else is taking place around us that our human bodies aren't designed to recognize? 
     

  • Ramon Antonio

    Very interesting and illuminating story. 

    In fact, this visualization serves to illustrate a theory I have on the death of bees syndrome. I have always thought that technology, specifically wireless technology, is killing their sensory organs by sensory overload. In simple terms I think this is the same issue that kills whales but in another scale.

    A metadata study of bees deaths occurrences in relation to time, urban sprawl and wireless proliferation may serve to evaluate this idea. By creating a sensory landscape alien to their senses, they simply die of sensory crackdown and starve to death because they can't navigate successfully in this new environment that has evolved faster than they can adapt and that gets more complicated logarithmically as time passes by.

  • sAs

    This is a brilliant visualization! 

    But I wonder if the waves are actually such a rainbow of color? This imagery makes one want to be covered in the wifi waves but if they were brown or black would one feel otherwise? Does the rainbow coloring actually represent the character of the waves or are they simply for aesthetics (which are lovely)? 

  • Sydney Brownstone

    Lamm and Vogel chose to use color to show the different segments, or channels, of Wi-Fi in one field. But that's a good question--though I don't know how Wi-Fi channels might be characterized.

  • Leap Graphics

    This is so cool... look at what we walk through every day and don't realize it!

  • Koen Kas

    Interesting to combine with this recent development:

    Wi-Fi Signals Enable Gesture Recognition Throughout Entire Home
    June 4, 2013 — Forget to turn off the lights before leaving the apartment? No problem. Just raise your hand, finger-swipe the air, and your lights will power down. Want to change the song playing on your music system in the other room? Move your hand to the right and flip through the songs.
     
    University of Washington computer scientists have developed gesture-recognition technology that brings this a step closer to reality. Researchers have shown it's possible to leverage Wi-Fi signals around us to detect specific movements without needing sensors on the human body or cameras.By using an adapted Wi-Fi router and a few wireless devices in the living room, users could control their electronics and household appliances from any room in the home with a simple gesture.http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/...