How does Wi-Fi feel on the body?
Three researchers from the IT University of Copenhagen have developed and studied FeltRadio, a device that translates radio waves from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth into electrical impulses on the body. In the beginning of June, the project received an Honorable Mention Award at the DIS conference in Brisbane.
There is something in the air. All around us, radio waves from Wi-Fi and Bluetooth are racing through the air, completely undetected by our senses. But how would we feel about the invisible wireless traffic if we could sense it physically?
This question prompted Erik Grönvall, an Associate Professor of interaction design at ITU, to develop FeltRadio, a portable device that picks up radio waves from the 2.4 GHz band used for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and converts them into electrical impulses that stimulate the muscles of the body. The more activity in the surrounding area, the stronger become the shocks from the electrodes, which are place on the body. In this way, the device gives the wearer a very tangible experience of the invisible signals.
Erik Grönvall’s experiments with FeltRadio evolved into a research project with his colleagues Anna Vallgårda and Jonas Fritsch, both fellow Associate Professors at ITU. At the prestigious DIS 2016 conference in Australia, the project received an international seal of approval with an Honorable Mention Award for a paper on FeltRadio.
The effect of signals from mobile phones and Wi-Fi are much debated, but FeltRadio is not designed to elicit a particular response from the wearer. Rather, it is a piece of critical design that intends to trigger reflections on the invisible activity in our surroundings.
- With FeltRadio, you can take a walk and sense the Wi-Fi traffic in your surroundings. We are interested in studying how this experience can change people's perceptions of what Wi-Fi is and how awareness of the traffic might change people's perceptions of their environment, says Anna Vallgårda.
Erik Grönvall continues:
- FeltRadio provides an extra layer of information about your surroundings, and gives people an opportunity to make their own decisions about how they want to interpret this information. In this way, it invites discussion, but we are telling people whether the signals represent something positive or negative, says Erik Grönvall.
Hear the researchers explain the ideas behind FeltRadio:
Can change perceptions
The three researchers have tested FeltRadio on around 100 volunteers, and test subjects have responded very differently to becoming aware of the signals. While some appreciated the extra information about their surroundings, others became frustrated with the awareness of something they were not able to change.
- For some, the experience completely changed perceptions of the surroundings. The beautiful park where they walk the dog was suddenly full of activity, while a dull building site became a welcoming area because it was quiet. Some became curious about what was going on inside the houses around them, and others thought it was cool to be able to find out where the Wi-Fi signal was best, says Anna Vallgårda.
Watch a subject test FeltRadio:
The researchers are now planning further experiments in which subjects must wear FeltRadio for twenty minutes a day over a longer period to investigate whether long-term exposure has an impact on people's reflections.
- Our findings on what sensing the Wi-Fi does to people's understandings, and the discussions it generates, have generated several research questions that have proven to be of general international interest. For instance about the use of Electrical Muscle Stimulation and the skin as an interaction surface, Sensorial Augmentation - heightening our senses through technology - and the social dimension of being influenced by other people's activities, says Jonas Fritsch.
Erik Grönvall, Associate Professor, email email@example.com
Jonas Fritsch, Associate Professor, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Anna Vallgårda, Associate Professor, email email@example.com
Vibeke Arildsen, Press Officer, phone 2555 0447, email firstname.lastname@example.org