Estimated read time: 1-2 minutes
This archived news story is available only for your personal, non-commercial use. Information in the story may be outdated or superseded by additional information. Reading or replaying the story in its archived form does not constitute a republication of the story.
SALT LAKE CITY — Wi-Fi on flights can be frustratingly inconsistent, but Boeing is trying to improve it — by using potatoes.
The airplane manufacturer used 20,000 pounds of potatoes to test how electric signals interact with human bodies in airplanes. The aim of the project was to discover whether wireless signal behavior is affected when humans move around in small spaces. The program, titled "SPUDS" — Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution — will hopefully lead to more reliable and evenly distributed Wi-Fi coverage.
"Inside the aircraft it's a very complex electromagnetic environment," metrology engineer Dennis Lewis said. "Some seats might have very strong signal and some might have very weak signal. As things move around — as people move and the galley carts are pushed up and down the aisles — then those signal levels can change."
The company used potatoes for the test instead of mannequins because potatoes more closely resemble people, at least as far as radio waves are concerned. While mannequins may look more like people to the human eye, potatoes interact with electronic signals more like humans do, because both are basically bags of water with some solid elements.
The analytical tools were first developed to help engineers test signals' potential to interfere with airplanes' electrical systems. The addition of the potatoes meant tests that used to take two weeks now take 10 days, even with human volunteers being used to test the potatoes' accuracy.