Polar Bear Math

Where Are Polar Coordinates and Graphs Used in the Real World?

Photo of radar display

Radar measures the things it is tracking by the angle and distance from the antenna. This maritime navigation radar shows the ship's position in the center of the display and other ships and land as distance and direction from the ship. (The straight lines attached to the other ships are computerized course projections for those ships.)

Microphone sensitivity plot

The pickup patterns of microphones are shown on polar plots. This plot shows the pattern for one of the most popular directional microphones used for vocal performance. The pattern is called "cardioid," (meaning heart-shaped). You can see that the shape changes a bit depending on the sound's frequency. Each circle on the plot represents a bit less than doubling of the sound reception, so this microphone "hears" things about 10 times better from the front than from the back.

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