The promise of Wi-Fi is freedom-the ability to bring your laptop or PDA away from the anchor that is your desk and into your life. With most wireless routers, however, your life had better stop at around 300 feet, and forget about heading outside. Between the noise generated by other local wireless devices and physical obstacles like furniture and walls, chances are your Wi-Fi signal is little more than a whisper by the time it hits your backyard. So I built a box that can pick up that signal and boost it another 200 to 300 feet. It uses a Linksys Wi-Fi range expander ($100; linksys.com) modified with an omnidirectional 9dBi antenna ($58; pacwireless.com). To avoid unsightly extension cords in the flower bed, I added a lead-acid battery ($22; radioshack.com) and a 10-watt solar panel ($119; sundancesolar.com) to charge it.
My weatherproof box radiates the signal equally in all directions, but you could use a directional antenna instead to shoot your Wi-Fi to a more specific area of your yard or neighborhood (try wlanparts.com for more antennas). See the basic steps below, and at popsci.com/wifi, find a detailed how-to, along with a parts list and more photos. Then brew some iced tea and start surfing outside.
Wire the Antenna
Add the Battery
Attach the Panel
Five amazing, clean technologies that will set us free, in this month's energy-focused issue. Also: how to build a better bomb detector, the robotic toys that are raising your children, a human catapult, the world's smallest arcade, and much more.