What have you made?
Foxes Like Beacons is an exploratory project/technology using open data of public radio stations with open and inexpensive signal detection hard/software, in order to create an open positioning system
What gave you the initial inspiration?
The most important inspiration was certainly the critical literature about network architectures and network technologies like Barbara van Schewicks “Internet Architecture and Innovation” (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/internet-architecture-and-innovation
) or Laura DeNardis “Protocol Politics” (https://mitpress.mit.edu/books/protocol-politics
). Equally important were the critical works about privacy and digital culture of artist Friederike Glaser: (http://www.rikeglaser.de/work.html
) or Hito Steyerl (https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hito_Steyerl
). All these inspirational sources are concerned with the understanding, implications and the constraints of todays digital networks and technologies. Moreover how the standard setting bodies of these technologies influence everyday aspects of our lives, economies, cultures and politics.
What is the original idea behind this project?
The American GPS technology, which we ubiquitously use, is so deeply intertwined with economies, politics, cultures and individual private lifes, on global scale. Though it is a technology invented and still controlled by the American military. So I find it is more than appropriate to first of all question the foundations of this technology, but moreover to create open alternatives following public interests, addressing privacy and curation issues of such an important system.
How does it work?
Foxes Like Beacons uses open data sets about of public broadcast radio stations, transceiver locations, and respective transmission powers. An Arduino NANO connected to a basic FM Radio tunes alternately into different radio stations alternately and measures the received signal strength of each station. The difference between the initial and the received signal strength in combination with transceiver locations can be used to calculate the distances from transceivers to a receiver. By triangulation of these distances it is possible to locate the Foxes Like Beacons receiver on a map.
How long did it take to make it real?
The hardest part was certainly to overcome the “default thinking” about the technological standards of the existing technology and how to achieve the same ends through different means. Once the fundamental structure of what an alternative system objectively demands was clear, things like comprehensive infrastructure or the kinds of data, it was a rather quick process to find out about open source hardware which can achieve the necessary computing. The incredibly detailed documentation base of Arduino really enables creators to quickly figure out all the various possibilities the hardware can be used for. Therefore the first functioning prototype took me about 4 days to build.
How did you build it?
The entire system of the first prototype evolved around a heart of an Arduino NANO connected to a Sparkfun Si47 FM Radio Receiver with a basic omnidirectional antenna. The number crunching and interface were undertaken by a Raspberry Pi 2 and a Touch Screen module for the Pi. A latter variation of the system was a stripped down, more low power version, which means I skipped the Raspberry Pi and the touch screen, in order to “only” collect and record the received radio signals and do the number crunching and mapping later on a laptop. This made the entire system incredibly small and energy efficient since it only needed the NANO, the Radio Receiver, the antenna and a small battery.