Don't laugh at neighbors who think aluminum foil can improve their Wi-Fi router's signal, because they might actually be right.
Xia Zhou, an assistant professor of computer science at Dartmouth College, shared a research presentation in the Netherlands on Wednesday, Nov. 9, explaining how a customized reflector wrapped around a router's antennas can direct signals where they're most needed.
Aside from increasing Wi-Fi signals, a reflector can also help to improve Wi-Fi router security, according to Zhou.
Aluminum Foil Legitimately Improves Wi-Fi Signal
"Through this single solution, we address a number of challenges that plague wireless users," she said.
Zhou, along with a team of Dartmouth researchers, based their experiments on the idea of placing aluminum soda cans behind a router to direct the signal away from barrier-like walls and other obstructions. The team successfully analyzed the space in a room and created a custom reflector that could improve Wi-Fi signals inside it.
Wrapping a foil around a router's antenna can make for reflectors, which strengthens the signal in one direction. The researchers have managed to create exactly that, but one that's made of plastic and a thin layer of metal. The optimized reflector works by shaping wireless signals, which not only increases network coverage, but allows signals to move freely and avoid obstructions such as walls or panels.
Check out a demonstration video of the customized reflector, called WiPrint, below:
WiPrint solves a lot of problems with Wi-Fi signals. First of all, it's cheap. Those who have a 3D printer can buy WiPrint for $35 and print it themselves. By contrast, directional antennas cost way more than that.
Second, it gives users control over their Wi-Fi signal, which to the layman sounds like a useless option but actually yields some pretty cool benefits. Not only does it ensure there's a strong Wi-Fi signal in the rooms they need it in, but it allows users to manually weaken or cut off signal where they don't. This is a boon for those paranoid about network security, ensuring unauthorized people won't be able to just access their network willy-nilly.
"[W]e aim to strengthen the signal in regions where high performance is desired, and weaken the signal in regions where malicious third-parties could potentially be eavesdropping," the study's authors wrote in their research paper.
A More Flexible Version Of WiPrint
As Engadget points out, the research team must now figure out a way to develop a version of the WiPrint that is made of a different material than plastic. The goal is to create a flexible customized reflector that can adapt to changes that can affect its efficiency, such as the layout of the household it's in.