For years, humans have utilized the visible spectrum of the electromagnetic spectrum to see things, and in the last few decades, scientists have employed infrared and ultraviolet telescopes to be able to view the natural world in those spectrums.

These applications have been a part of a growing trend to utilize different parts of the electromagnetic spectrum for greater understanding and more knowledge. We actually came up with our idea while trying to figure out a way to maximize WiFi reception to computers.

We realized that it would be very helpful to be able to "see" rooms through Wi-Fi signals just like doctors and scientists can see x-rays and distant galaxies. After all, the WiFi signals are just another part of the electromagnetic spectrum.

So, what we decided to do was create a device, a camera, to be able to view environments in the WiFi spectrum. The WiFi spectrum is located in the radio part of the huge electromagnetic spectrum. The frequency of the WiFi part of the radio spectrum is 2.4-2.48GHz. In contrast, the visible part of the electromagnetic spectrum has a frequency of 430-790THz. We built our camera by first looking at how regular cameras worked and then applying that same general idea to the WiFi spectrum.

To build the camera, we had to understand how normal digital cameras work.What they do is take in light photons, that hit photoreceptors and correspond to how bright or dark a light is. This was how the first black and white cameras were made, since these receptors took in light, logged in where it was dark or bright, and then joined all that data to stitch an image. Then, advanced photo receptors were made that were able to detect the exact wavelength, that differentiated different colors, and gave us colored pictures.

The problem that we ran into while building a device that would take pictures instead in the WiFi spectrum was that we could not create a device that would have thousands of sensors taking in data, as that would have been extremely expensive. Furthermore, it may even be unfeasible to build that many sensors from an engineering standpoint. Normal cameras are able to have many sensors because the wavelength of visible light is 400-700 nm, but for us, the wavelength of WiFi rays are around 12.5 cm, which requires a large opening for the WiFi signals to fit into.

We then came up with a solution. Instead of building a WiFi sensor for each pixel, we could make 1 good directional antenna and then change its direction by taking the measurements for each pixel over time, because Wi-Fi signals generally stay consistent over time.

By following that principle, we created a "cantenna" that involved using a can as an antenna to capture the signals and take measurements, and to make it directional, we utilized a mount with a motor on top to be able to move the cantenna 180 degrees to take measurements and be able to develop a image.

We created a camera consisting of two parts, a cantenna, and the tripod/motor. The cantenna is made of a can, insulated within aluminum (the metal insulation on the sides makes the overall antenna more directional, meaning it takes measurements only in front of it. We could have used more aluminum to secure it further, but it would affect the torque of the motor). Inside the can is a USB WiFi adapter that is responsible for actually measuring the signal strength data and then sending it to a computer program called Homedale, which logs the data in equal time intervals.

The tripod is used to hold it upright, and for the up and down tilt (to make the picture two dimensional, not just 1D), and on the tripod is a motor that helps in moving the motor, at a constant rate around 6 degrees/sec. As this camera moves across 180 degrees, the antenna inside logs in WiFi strengths (corresponding to the light and dark) and then, we wrote a program which takes in these logged values, and then converts them into an image.

Initially we used a WiFi adapter, but then to increase pixels of our finished images, we created a second version of the camera, which was the same can concept, except we created our own antenna, made of an Arduino board (basically a microprocessor that we programmed to interface with a radio transceiver), and the radio transceiver, a Nordic nRF24L01+.

The advantages of customizing our own antenna are that it takes in more data per second, and that would help create a much more high resolution picture, making it usable in the professional field.

To display the data in an image format, we converted the data collected using the red part of the RGB color scale which is a mathematical scale that relates the saturation of the color red (and green and blue) with a value from 0-255. All black is 0 which corresponds to a weak signal and all red is 255 which is a strong signal.

When we compared the photos and saw the correspondence, we found out that our camera was actually working. One problem was that the resolution of the picture was not ideal and optimal. It is around 35-40 pixels wide and 5 pixels large. Even though it isn’t fully optimal, it does still have its uses (optimization, security, and drones).

Meanwhile, we worked on the second version of the that used a radio transceiver, Nordic nRF24L01+. That was able to take in more data per second, and that helped create a much higher resolutioned picture, making it usable in the professional field.

It was also able to visualize certain interferences, such as other devices emitting electromagnetic signals (certain black lines appearing in patterns), and helped show where they were being detected as well, to help with understanding what they were and how to insulate against them. These images also showed and proved the vast potential of this device.

Check out more of the WiFi pictures we captured using the device by clicking here!

One of the first cameras of its kind, (we researched and found that only one group of scientists attempted this themselves, but stopped working on it in 2011) this project delves into a completely new topic and instrument, and we tried to invent something completely different and completely new.

This device has a lot of research and practical potential and applications. The WiFi Camera can be used for both WiFi optimization and security. As for optimization, the camera can be used to find the places with the best signals and material that best leaks or even optimizes WiFi signals, and certain equipment can be placed nearby such places or with such material.

For security, the camera can be used to detect any leakages or be used to pad up rooms and house to stop any WiFi signals leaking outside and keep your WiFi secure. It can also be used for tracking and personal radar, detecting any outside interference within WiFi signals, such as a man moving through a room etc. The camera can also be used in the air defense sector to possibly enemy detect drones as well as their communication systems and infrastructure, even when not detectable by radio and radar.

This technology can also be possibly integrated in phones as a secondary camera, especially since WiFi is a major part of technology these days. People can utilize the WiFi camera to detect the best signals and where they are being emitted from, and possibly move closer during a video call, or while downloading something, a utility that would be easily present within their hands! It also has applications in astronomy related fields, as this concept can be used to analyze and visualize space and see the heavenly bodies in a different spectrum, to shed light on other features that may not be visible using other telescopes and cameras.

The Awards

The WiFi Camera has been featured in 3 science and technology fairs in the United States.
It has won numerous awards from government agencies, educational institutions, organizations, and companies.

Langley High School

County of Fairfax


The Boeing Company

George Mason University

US Patent & Trademark Office

Commonwealth of Virginia

Emaad Paracha

Emaad Paracha is an Economics, Mathematics, and Computer Science student in his second year of university at the University of Toronto. He hopes to use knowledge from both fields to get into public administration as well as improving technology and computer science in Pakistan.

Emaad is a self-taught graphic designer, web developer, and programmer. He joined Andrew Ton in the WiFi Camera Project while they were both in Langley High School, taking AP Computer Science together.

He believes the WiFi Camera has an immense potential, especially in today's world. It has broad applications in security, optimization, and other fields of science and technology that he believes should not be overlooked, but instead developed upon to give humans another spectrum to be able to visualize their world in.

In his free time, Emaad loves to travel, hike, play squash, and do freelance designing (websites and graphic). He has seen 38 states of the USA, travelled to 7 countries, and lived in 4 of those countries. He was also a Vice President of the world's largest youth-run organization, AIESEC. You can either find him online, designing websites, or exploring mountains in hidden corners of the world.

Andrew Ton

Andrew Ton is a rising sophomore enrolled in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the University of Virginia. He is double majoring in Computer Engineeering and Economics and hopes to find a career that integrates the two disciplines.

The Wi-Fi Camera is his brainchild - he wanted to invent a device to "see" the ocean of electromagnetic waves permeating our world. He chose the Wi-Fi spectrum, because of its ubiquity and its new role in connecting the world through the internet.

Wi-Fi has become a must-have in modern and developing societies. Today, every home, building, and city is installing Wi-Fi networks, yet they are is invisible to us.

Its complex interactions with our everyday world would surely provide us with new engineering insights and applications.