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Wireless technology

How does wireless technology allow devices to communicate without touching? This video covers the basic underlying idea.

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Video transcript

- [Instructor] So I have a pretty fun browser extension running right now, where basically, whenever I'm on some kind of web page on the internet that uses the word technology, it replaces the text of that word on the screen with the word magic. So whenever I'm reading some news article about a new piece of technology, or something talking about the influence that technology is having on the kids of today, instead what I'm reading is about a new piece of magic, or the influence that magic is having on the kids of today. And I don't know about you. I found this kind of funny. And I think one of the reasons that it is so funny to me is that technology does feel like magic sometimes. In fact, I think a good way of defining what technology is is if when you're using it, it kind of feels like magic. I mean you could try to come up with a more proper definition. It's one of those things, where we all know what technology is when we see it or when we see examples of it, right? I mean, a lot of times electronics, we say are some kind of technology, or like airplanes are another one. And maybe in general, you could say that if it's something where we use our understanding of science to be able to do a thing that we couldn't do before, that is technology. But I think with any attempt at a definition like that is really getting at is that feeling that you get when you're using some piece of technology that it's magic. That you wouldn't of expected something like that to be possible, but it is, like flying, right. I bet the first people who saw airplanes, when they saw that you could fly, it felt like wizardry. And one of the things that I personally find most magical about some of today's technology is wireless technology. Things that can communicate with each other without being connected. So smartphones or any kind of phone is a good example of this, where you can browse the internet, and make calls, and do what you want on your phone even though it's not touching anything. It somehow just sending off a signal, and receiving a signal from the broader internet. And much of this is encapsulated with the idea of wifi, where your computer, or your phone, or whatever device connecting to the internet does it without actually touching anything. And maybe this feels natural to you because we use it so much. But when you step back and think about it, it really don't feel like magic. How can you have something communicate with another one without some kind of connection between the two things that are communication, right? So all the activity going on in your phone that tells it what to show you on the screen can somehow get that information from whatever activity is going on in your router or whatever part of the internet your router is getting its information from. One way that you can start to explain the piece of our scientific understanding that underlies all of wireless technology is to start thinking about a lake. So what I have here is a little demonstration that I'm about to run. And I want you to think of this big blue circle as being a lake. And then this right here in the middle, this red dot is going to represent you in the middle of the lake. Maybe you're on a boat or maybe you're just floating. But you're just sitting there in the water in the middle of the lake. And then on the edge here is a friend of yours. This white dot is representing that friend of yours, and you want to communicate with him. And let's say you have to do it without shouting, or talking, or tweeting him, or anything like that. You have to communicate just using the water in some way. Well, one thing that you can do here, is to start to jiggle. And if you start to jiggle up and down, then the water around you starts to ripple, and create these waves. And eventually those waves are going to reach your friend. And then your friends starts jiggling as well. And if you kind of adjust the way that you're jiggling, maybe you jiggle a little bit faster at some points and slower at other points. You could imagine maybe coming up with some kind of code for what slow jiggle's code for, what fast jiggle's code for, and you in effect are communicating with your friend at a distance. Now believe it or not, that's actually very similar to what's going on in the case of wireless technology. The basic idea is to get something to jiggle, right? Just get something to jiggle, and that's gonna create a wave, and it's not gonna be a water wave. It's something different, but the same basic idea, jiggling and then a wave. And then that causes jiggling somewhere else, right? This is how you get your communication at a distance. And in this case, it's not water like I said, but there'll be some kind of tiny little particle inside your phone somewhere or really a bunch of them, and they'll be jiggling up and down in some particular way with some particular pattern. And the way that they jiggle is going to send out waves just like it did with the water. And those waves, they're gonna come over, and whatever they hit, if there's another particle or a bunch of little particles, kinda like this inside say your router, those are gonna start jigging up and down with the same pattern. So if you can get the right jiggling pattern going on with what's inside your phone, it'll cause that same jiggling pattern with whatever it's trying to communicate with. Now this raises a lot of really interesting questions, right? It's not water. So what are they jiggling in? Well, the technical description, it's something called the electromagnetic field. And if you really start going down the rabbit hole of questions, it gets into a pretty advanced topic. But like I said, the underlying principle here of jiggling something, which causes waves in some kind of medium. It's easier to think in terms of water that causes jiggling elsewhere. This is at the most fundamental level, how any wireless device that you have communicates with other wireless devices. So I think understanding this principal makes it feel a little bit less magical that actually is, if you dig deep enough, an explanation for what's going on inside your phone, and what's going on inside other wireless technologies. But if you're like me, it's still does feel pretty magical. I mean this idea that there is something kind of like water, where there are waves. It's not water, and that we can't feel, but it is there, and it is everywhere, that still feels a little bit like magic to me. But I think that's kind of the goal in understanding technology is we try to make it feel less magical, and there might always still be some little part of it that feels a bit like magic, but the more we learn, the less magical it feels.