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What does Wi-Fi look like? Feast your eyes

Norwegian designers find a unique way to visualize invisible Wi-Fi signals. You'll wish the Wi-Fi manager on your computer looked like this.

Walking with the Wi-Fi measuring rod: I ain't afraid of no ghost. Timo Arnall

In Oslo, Norway, it's not uncommon for a dazzling aurora borealis to light up the night sky. Or maybe it's just the Internet you're looking at.

Timo Arnall, Jorn Knutsen, and Einar Sneve Martinussen from the Oslo School of Architecture and Design have found a unique way to visualize invisible Wi-Fi signals in their Norwegian city by light-painting signal strength in long-exposure photographs.

Their project, which is documented in a film called Immaterials: Light painting Wi-Fi, is powered by a 13-foot "Wi-Fi measuring rod" containing 80 lights that illuminate at varying levels depending on signal reach.

The glowing Wi-Fi measuring staff, which is truly worthy of Gandalf himself, is operated by a microcontroller. To create the mesmerizing visuals, the artists--Ph.D. candidates in interaction design--placed a camera nearby as the rod was taken to various locations at nighttime in the Oslo borough of Grunerlokka.

The Wi-Fi visualizations are part of the research project YOUrban, which explores the intersection between design, technology, and urban life and previously showed the invisible fields surrounding RFID readers. With their Wi-Fi light painting, the designers noticed a pattern.

"The strength, consistency, and reach of the network says something about the built environment where it is set up, as well as reflecting the size and status of the host," according to Martinussen. "Small, domestic networks in old apartment buildings flow into the streets in different ways than the networks of large institutions. Dense residential areas have more, but shorter-range, networks than parks and campuses."

The results transform a normal-looking city into a sparkling digital world. The video below and gallery above show just how beautiful something so seemingly un-beautiful can be. It would be incredible if you could somehow create the same display in an augmented-reality app.

Hopefully the next version will be a 3G measuring rod so we can finally see if AT&T and Verizon are telling the truth about their wireless coverage.