Living in a major city, Internet signals and WiFi waves surround us like ethereal spirits or phantoms. There have been multiple occasions when we've wondered if the seemingly omnipresent local networks could be visualized, or even animated as unique shapes and bodies. Luis Hernan, a PhD candidate with the Architecture and Interaction Design Group at Newcastle University, is exploring such a concept, as he's developed a machine that turns Internet signals into vibrant, LED-based forms. In the past, we've seen hypothetical interpretations of what WiFi might look like, but this is a tool that turns real data into visuals.
Kirlian Device, developed by Hernan's company Digital Ethereal, is a gadget that translates WiFi signal strength into colors with an LED panel, where red signifies high intensity and blue represents weak signals. By tracking the Kirlian Device with some long exposure photography, local networks become visible configurations—swirling light paintings that replicate your apartment's janky Internet connection. A device like this could possibly be used to determine if that basement sublet is really worth renting.
Hernan told Discovery that the process only takes a few minutes, and "Due to the brightness of the device, my figure is ghosted away in the process. In some pictures you can see my feet or even my blurred head underneath the light strikes.” The forms are relatively simple, though still ethereal.
The inventor added a philosophical treatise, of sorts, on the project site:
"I believe our interaction with this landscape of electromagnetic signals…can be characterized in the same terms as that with ghosts and spectra. They both are paradoxical entities, whose untypical substance allows them to be an invisible presence. In the same way, they undergo a process of gradual substantiation to become temporarily available to perception. Finally, they both haunt us."
The paranormal allusions are even reflected in the invention's name itself, as it's titled after Kirlian photography—the technology used to measure paranormal activity. The description also explains that this device offers "the potential for a spatially rich interaction with information systems, one that more closely resembles the interaction with real architecture."
On top of the machine itself, there is also a Kirlian Device mobile app that reads the WiFi manager status and looks for Received Signal Strength Index data to turn WiFi information culled from your current location into a color map. Now, if you need to convince a friend to meet you at your regular coffee shop, you have a tool to back up your claim that the spot really does have the best Internet connection in town.
Visit Digital Ethereal's website for more information on the project.