pt.I of Stupid, Messy Networks


FOXES LIKE BEACONS is an exploratory project using open data of public radio stations with inexpensive, low-power signal detection in order to create an open positioning system.

Today satellite based GPS enable and augment uncountable everyday processes, ranging from logistics to fitness trackers and even intimate dating applications. These proprietary systems are mostly invisibly controlled and curated by governments, military and economic actors. Since GPS ubiquitously affect our interactions and experiences with our environment, economy and privacy, Foxes Like Beacons questions this present model, thus opening up space for speculations about alternative navigation systems and new models for interaction.


All three applications, Device No.1, No.2, and No.3, build on the same technical basic structure, shown beneath. This structure uses very low-power, inexpensive, open and off the shelf technology. Precision and miniaturization can be extremely increased using customized parts. Building on the distributed infratructure of public broadcast radio, Foxes Like Beacons is not subject to any kind of central control or curation.


1. Antenna - omnidirectional
2. 4.3” tft screen
3. Compass, gyroscope, and barometric altitude sensor
4. Main processing unit - RaspberryPi 2
5. Signal processing unit - Arduino NANO
6. Radio frequency tuner
7. Battery


Device No.1 meassures the received signal strengths and decodes the identifiers of minimum three stations. Open data about transceiver locations and respective transmission power is used to calculate distance to each transceiver which can then be triangulated, in order to map a users geo location. Incorporating more stations leads to a higher resolution and more accurate geo locations.


Individual regions have indvidual musical characteristics. Device No.2 enables users to navigate by pleasing of sound rather than geographical information, following "geo-acoustic” maps. It automatically adjusts the volumes of simultaneously played stations according to proximity.


Device No.3 speculates about further applications by analyzing and interpreting signal modulations which occur due to factors like electromagnetic radiation, weather, and geographic conditions. These modulate radio signals in characteristc ways which can be interpreted and incorporated in navigation/exploration.


Foxes Like Beacons is part of the ongoing project "Stupid, Messy Networks". The greater project investigates the process of digital networks becoming ubiquitous infrastructures and moreover how these new infrastructures empower or constrain actors in economical, political and social interactions.


Digital networks are based on protocols which can be seen as sets of technological standards, building the overal network-architecture. Just like the architecture of a house constraints our physical movements by walls, windows, doors and locks, network architectures can constrain us in everything we do within them by certain protocols and technical standards.


As we increasingly transfer critical infrastructures, like communication, identification, currencies or even education to digital networks, it is only appropriate to ask who the architects of these networks are. What are their individual interests? How might they implement their own interests in network architectures or even utilize network architectures to achieve idiosyncratic goals? "Influencing architecture can be a powerful way to pursue one´s interests."
Internet Architecture and Innovation - Barbara van Schewick - p.381


"We assume that the way we find things is the way things have to be. We are not trained to think about all the different ways technology could achieve the same ends through different means." CODE 2.0 - Larry Lessing - p.32 According to this Stupid Messy Networks tries to create awareness of architecturally introduced constraints by means of critical design.

But even further, as Laura DeNardis and Andrew Feenberg pinpoint: "technology is power in modern societies, a greater power in many domains than the political system itself," and qunsequently democratic standards should be applied to technology like any other political institution." Protocol Politics - Laura DeNardis - p.92 For that reason Stupid Messy Networks becomes a tool to find out insights from technology critique, in order to design and develop network architectures and technologies of public interest.
Foxes Like Beacons has been developed as a part of the ongoing project "Stupid Messy Networks". Jochen Maria Weber works at the intersection between Interaction Design, Industrial Design and product invention.
© Jochen Maria Weber, Berlin 2015

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