While the human eye is remarkable, it is extremely limited in what it can see. We need special instruments such as microscopes to see something extremely small, and telescopes to see something extremely far away. However, an app called Architecture of Radio allows you to see what can’t be seen, such as wireless signals.
The app works by spinning your iPhone or iPad around you to see spherical wavefronts that are given off from wireless routers and cell towers, and one might even have a chance to see a satellite. These sources in the app are compiled from several public databases. The waves are estimates based on distance and not measurements taken from the device.
App creator Richard Vijgen states that the infosphere (which he describes as an interdependent environment similar to a biosphere) is populated by informational entities. “While an example of the sphere of information, or infosphere, is cyberspace, infospheres are not limited to purely online environments. The infosphere relies on an intricate network of signals, wired and wireless, that support it. We are completely surrounded by an invisible system of data cables and radio signals from access points, cell towers and overhead satellites. Our digital lives depend on these very physical systems for communication, observation and navigation,” he says on the app’s website.
Vijgen’s app has compiled data from 7 million cell towers, 19 million Wi-Fi routers and hundreds of satellites. “The Architecture of Radio is a site-specific iPad application that visualizes this network of networks by reversing the ambient nature of the infosphere; hiding the visible while revealing the invisible technological landscape we interact with through our devices,” he said, saying there’s more going on than what any human being can see when it comes to wireless devices.
“As an information designer, I’m interested in visualizing things we cannot see,” Vijgen told Fast Company. “Most of the information we consume is delivered to us over the air via radio waves. We are connected 24/7 through devices that communicate wirelessly over Wi-Fi or cellular networks, yet contrary to the radio towers and transmission stations of the early days of radio, the infrastructure that underpins our information society is barely visible. Wi-Fi routers are hidden behind bookshelves and cell towers are mounted to existing buildings or disguised as trees,” he said, saying that the state of wireless transmission is now blending in with everyday objects.
Vijgen believes that everyone should be able to see what is going on when Wi-Fi and cellular networks interact with devices. “We cannot see the very thing that is defining our time, and that concerns me,” he said. “As technology is becoming more and more transparent, I think data visualization can help us to relate to things that are invisible, yet play an important role in our lives.”
Vijgen’s creation is currently on display at the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany until April 2016. The app is currently available on iOS, but an Android version is planned for release in early 2016. The Architecture of Radio app is showing that there is far more than meets the eye when it comes to wireless technology.