Wi-Fi signals are constantly zipping through the air around us, invisible to human eyes. But what do they look like to machines?
Amsterdam-based artist and designer Richard Vijgen has created a contraption that depicts them. His device records and draws Wi-Fi signals in real time, depicting the electromagnetic landscape around it at any given moment.
The piece, called Wi-Fi Impressionist, is composed of an antenna that picks up the signals, a tiny computer to process them, and a device that can draw a representation of those signals. As the antenna scans the world around it, it picks up on devices sending data through Wi-Fi. The computer then translates the horizontal and vertical angle of the antenna combined with the strength of the signal into a point on the page—effectively creating a visual illustration of each signal.
“Once positioned and oriented, a drawing becomes denser over time depending on the density of networks around it,” writes Vijgen on the project’s website. “Wherever there is a wi-fi signal, the drawing will eventually fill the frame.”
Vijgen writes that the project was inspired by the dramatic landscape paintings of William Turner, the English artist who worked in the early 1800s.
“My goal was not to create a scientific representation of radio signals but rather a perspective on the world around me, a way of seeing it,” Vijgen tells Fast Company via email. “Like the impressionist painters were trying to capture the vibration of light around them, this project is trying to do the same at a much lower wavelength in the 2.4GHz spectrum (as visible light and radio are different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum).”
So far, his device has produced drawings in Amsterdam, Rotterdam, and Arnhem in the Netherlands, all of which look like knotted webs of crisscrossing signals—which, in a sense, is exactly what they’re representing. We just can’t see it.