John Metcalfe was CityLab’s Bay Area bureau chief, covering climate change and the science of cities.
Researchers in Grenoble, France, have developed a wallpaper that blocks wireless internet signals from leaking out of your home.
Are the neighbors all hopping on your Wi-Fi like it's the city bus, causing your internet connection to smoke and drag? Too lazy to pick a good password to prevent this blatant thievery?
Then perhaps you should get somebody to install this new wallpaper that blocks Wi-Fi signals. This miraculous bit of home decor exists thanks to researchers at the Institut Polytechnique de Grenoble and the Centre Technique du Papier, both located in the French technology hub of Grenoble. Polytechnique scientist Pierre Lemaitre-Auger, who's got a lust for gadgets like the "Integrated acousto-optic polarization analyzer sensor," recently gave a demonstration of the "Metapaper" to a room full of journalists. According to a Google translation of an article in L'Informaticien, he boasted that a "wireless network is provided with protections that can be cracked by the crafty. If you put wallpaper on the walls around an office or apartment, your Wi-Fi works well but it can not be hacked."
And all you have to do is sheet your computer room like a schizophrenic trying to keep out pernicious Y rays. The blocking action comes from the product's inclusion of silver-crystal ink, which somehow manage to stops the internet but allow cellphone, TV, and radio waves to pass through. (A full technical discussion is available in this PDF.) There is still the problem of Wi-Fi leaking through windows, but if you're a die-hard web surfer it's not likely you have or are interested in windows, so it all works out.
It's cheap, too, at about the price of a "mid-range" wallpaper, according to Lemaitre-Auger. The Finnish materials company Ahlstrom has picked up the license for the technology, and it could reach the shelves as early as next year. Exactly who the Metapaper would appeal to is a little murky. But its uses stretch beyond the guarding of online privacy. People who believe that invisible fields are giving them brain tumors might want a few square yards of it. Seriously: This application is specifically mentioned by the paper's makers, who note that the World Health Organization has classified electromagnetic waves as "possibly carcinogenic to humans." (Slowly put down your cellphone... now.)
More realistic, though, is that the wallpaper could be used to prevent troublesome signals from entering one's space – a desirable effect in sensitive places like hospitals and data centers. Here's how a commenter on The Verge imagined using the stuff:
I think part of the idea is that you can keep other signals out. so if you live in a Wifi heavy neighborhood (maybe parts of NYC and SC, California among others) in your house you’ll be able to deal with less interference meaning a better connection, and if you don’t like the way it looks – put it inside the wall, underneath the drywall, same could be for doors, they could just insert it inside the door (very few doors today are solid wood), for the floor and ceiling just do what you did for the walls, now you’re Wifi-insulated and completely free to interior decorate however you wish.