November 24, 2007
Reading for November 27th, are now posted. Enjoy!

October 2, 2007
To upload your thoughtless acts, create a new assignment page like any other lab. You'll see "Thoughtless Acts" listed as one of the assignment options.

May 24, 2008
This site has been archived and is no longer editable. Stay tuned for the next version, coming in the fall!

WiFi Divining Rod

Project Members: 
Jill Blue Lin
Ken-ichi Ueda


A divining rod is a Y-shaped stick made from the branch of a tree that supposedly allows you to detect underground water. When the forked ends are held in each hand, the third end is supposed to bend down when held over a water source. We would like to make a divning rod that actually works, except instead of finding water, it would find 802.11x WiFi signals, and instead of bending, it would vibrate.

We got this idea from Paul Dourish while he was giving a talk at the iSchool last year. He mentioned a similar project, in which a divining rod was simply used to act out the functionality of a proposed device that would provide users with information about their environment (where to go, what things are). While this idea isn't completely our own, we have yet to find any divining rods for detecting WiFi specifically, and we haven't found any work that has actually tried to implement a working prototype.


Humans have a remarkable ability to imagine unseen forces around them. Science and technology have both dispelled some of them, like the ability of hidden water to bend a stick, and required us to believe in new unseen things, like bacteria and radio waves. While these new hidden forces are demonstrably real, we suspect the act of believing in them is similar to any other kind of belief. Using a divining rod to detect WiFi emphasizes the link between supersticion and the perception of scientific reality by taking an artifact of supernatural perception and making it detect unseen natural phenomena.


We will find a Y-shaped branch, preferable of the traditional willow or hazel, and embed a DC motor in pointing end. Ideally we would also embed power, a wireless receiver, and the microcontroller in the rod, but for the purposes of this prototype, We will use a laptop for my WiFi detector and keep the laptop and microcontroller in a backpack. The stronger the WiFi signal strength the laptop detects, the more the stick will vibrate. If it works, users should be able to walk around campus dowsing for WiFi.

Other Ideas

It would be wonderful if the rod had a dial, perhaps a rotating section of one of the handles, that switched frequencies so the rod could detect other parts of the EM spectrum, like cell phone signals or radio.


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