If Our Eyes Could See Wireless Signals, Here's How Our World Might Look 

By Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan on at

Our lives today depend largely on systems and infrastructures that are invisible—a hidden landscape of webs and waves that come from network masts, routers, satellites, and more.

We rarely have to grapple with this hidden world, thanks to handy graphical user interfaces that parse all those waves and signals into information that our brains can comprehend. For the most part, we don't even think about them–with the exception of a few, like Dutch artist Richard Vijgen. “We are completely surrounded by an invisible system of data cables and radio signals from access points, network masts and overhead satellites,” he writes on his studio’s website, introducing an app called The Architecture of Radio.

The app uses a diverse range of data sources to visualise all of the communications networks in a given location. Take satellite signals, for example. According to Creative Applications, the app uses NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s satellite location system, Ephemeris, to calculate the location of in-orbit craft. What about phone signals? It grabs the tower locations nearby you from OpenCellID, then opens a collaborative map of cell towers. Vijgen’s app seems to synthesise that data into a lovely AR-style interface that lets the user pan around a room and experience his rendering of different forms of wireless communication:

We’ve seen various conceptual iterations of this same idea, but only specific to one type of communication—for example, these renderings of Wi-Fi signals, or this real-time map of all the objects in orbit. It’s unclear exactly how precise the app is, and whether the complex geometry on the screen is based entirely on data or whether Vijgen is taking some artistic liberties here (which seems fairly likely). But either way, it’s a really interesting reminder that the systems our world depends on are all around us, even if we can’t see them.

Another thing that’s unclear from the website is whether we’ll ever be able to try it for ourselves. Vijgen does note that the app will be on display at the ZKM | Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany, starting next month. I’ve reached out to the designer to ask if we can ever expect a public beta—in the meantime, check out his demo video above. [The Architecture of Radio h/t Creative Applications]