Immaterials: light painting WiFi

“The complex technologies the networked city relies upon to produce its effects remain distressingly opaque, even to those exposed to them on a daily basis.” – Adam Greenfield (2009)

Immaterials: light painting WiFi film by Timo Arnall, Jørn Knutsen and Einar Sneve Martinussen.

This project explores the invisible terrain of WiFi networks in urban spaces by light painting signal strength in long-exposure photographs. A four-metre tall measuring rod with 80 points of light reveals cross-sections through WiFi networks using a photographic technique called light-painting.

20 December, 16.57

This builds on a technique that was invented for the 2009 film ‘Immaterials: the Ghost in the Field’ which probed the edges of the invisible fields that surround RFID readers and tags in the world. It also began a series of investigations into what Matt Jones richly summarised as ‘Immaterials’.

While we were mapping out tiny RFID fields, we wondered what it would be like to apply the light painting process to larger-scale fields of Bluetooth, WiFi, GSM and 3G. What if we built huge light painting apparatus that could map out architectural and city-scale networks in the places and spaces they inhabited? We’re still very interested in understanding radio and wireless networks as one of the substrates essential to contemporary design practice.

20 December, 16.46

We built the WiFi measuring rod, a 4-metre tall probe containing 80 lights that respond to the Received Signal Strength (RSSI) of a particular WiFi network. When we walk through architectural, urban spaces with this probe, while taking long-exposure photographs, we visualise the cross-sections, or strata, of WiFi signal strength, situated within photographic urban scenes. The cross-sections are an abstraction of WiFi signal strength, a line graph of RSSI across physical space. Although it can be used to determine actual signal strength at a given point, it is much more interesting as a way of seeing the overall pattern, the relative peaks and the troughs situated in the surrounding physical space.

20 December, 15.54

After a week of walking through urban spaces holding and photographing this instrument, we have a much better sense of the qualities of WiFi in urban spaces, its random crackles, bright and dim spots, its reaction to the massing of buildings, and its broad reach through open areas. The resulting images show some of these qualities, and light painting is a brilliant medium for situating visualisations and data into physical world locations and situations.

Lots more visualisations and ‘making of’ pictures.

Einar writes more about this in an upcoming article called ‘Making material of the Networked City’ in Design Innovation for the Built Environment – Research by Design and the Renovation of Practice. There is also more detail on the project at the YOUrban weblog.

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193 Responses to Immaterials: light painting WiFi

  1. MtheB 5 April 2013 at 5:38 #

    You ask a very valid question Eadie. There is mounting research that has found that cellular and other microwave signals are proving to be a serious health hazard. The WHO has classified microwave radiation as a Class 2B carcinogen, meaning it is possible that it is a carcinogen. This is due to the way RF microwave signals affect the human body at the cellular level. There is, also, evidence that this form of radiation can affect biorhythms, such as the bodies ability to control the heart. Like cigarette smoke, it is best to limit your exposure to microwave radiation as much as possible. The WHO hasn’t upgraded the status yet, but if the research is accurate, then it is only a matter of time before they do.

  2. Silin 6 May 2013 at 18:26 #

    so awesome.i’d like to make one and walk around my campus to make a photo like that

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

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