You’re probably all too aware that your mobile service comes from phone towers. And that your mapping app is made possible by GPS satellites. And that Wi-Fi signals deliver your fail videos. But the sight of that invisible world is breathtaking.
This summer, a Dutch artist named Richard Vijgen released a video of a project he was working on called the Architecture of Radio. It was an augmented reality app that revealed the waves and signals in a given room, pulling information from publicly available databases on phone tower locations and satellites. It revealed an unearthly, web-like network of invisible infrastructure that powers our world — and unsurprisingly, a lot of people wanted to try it for themselves.
Sadly, the app itself wasn’t ready for public consumption... until today. You can now download the £2.29 iOS app for iPhone or iPad.
When you fire it up, you see a cobalt-blue screen where the app takes your GPS location and loads a series of datasets drawn from a global database that includes the cell towers around you and the satellites overhead (like this one). All in all, the database includes “7 million cell towers, 19 million Wi-Fi routers and hundreds of satellites”.
As you pan around your house, the app identifies signals and waves as you move: There’s a cell tower 589 metres to my left. If it was night, I could look out for a Russian satellite from 1964 passing to the south. It’s a bit like having x-ray glasses on.
The app warns that it is “not a measurement tool”. For example, the atmospheric waves and dots that texture the screen are an interpretation of waves, not a scientific reality. But the actual datapoints are real, based on your GPS coordinates and scraped from a database, which is pretty cool. Or terrifying, if you’re more of a tin-foil hat person.
“Most people seem to be amazed by the density of signals, some think it’s a bit scary, others just think it’s beautiful,” Vijgen told Gizmodo over email. In the end, it’s a lovely reminder of the vast network all around us, hidden in plain sight. You can get it here.