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Boeing replaces people with potatoes


December 21, 2012

Some of the potatoes used by Boeing to test WiFi

Some of the potatoes used by Boeing to test WiFi

Image Gallery (3 images)

There doesn't seem to be anything you can’t do with potatoes. You can boil them, mash them, fry them, roast them and even make pens out of them. Boeing is taking this versatility a step further by using them to replace people. No, this isn't a strange genetic experiment. The plane maker’s engineers at the Boeing Test & Evaluation laboratories have discovered that sacks of potatoes work as a substitute for people, when testing the effect on WiFi of an airline cabin packed with passengers.

The program is called Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution (SPUDS) and its purpose is to develop the most evenly spread and reliable WiFi coverage for an airliner.

Putting a WiFi network on an airliner isn't a matter of just plugging in a couple of routers. The cabin is a metal tube packed with wires and electronics that can interfere with WiFi signals, or the reverse. Worse, the human body can randomly distort signals. This distortion doesn't matter much for WiFi systems on the ground, but in a passenger cabin where hundreds of people are crammed together and moving around, it adds up to a major problem.

A graphic image showing WiFi hot spots on an airliner

The usual method of testing WiFi on a plane involves using human beings. That means asking a couple of hundred people to sit still inside a decommissioned airliner for two weeks. This is boring, expensive and makes an economy flight from New York to Hong Kong seem like paradise.

Boeing engineers discovered that potatoes have the same dielectric properties as people, so in developing the company’s new WiFi system they used 20,000 pounds (9,072 kg) of potato sacks piled in the seats. Not only did this save a lot of cramped legs, but the tests could be done in only ten hours.

The purpose of all this is to test how evenly a WiFi signal spreads in the cabin and how strong it is at any particular spot under various conditions using “proprietary measurement technology and analysis tools.” After the potatoes are tested, humans replace them for the much briefer final test, since people moving or switching on hundreds of mobile devices can also cause changes in signal strength that need to be accounted for.

Images released by Boeing shows that red potatoes were used. The company did not say whether russets or Yukon Golds produced different results.

Source: Boeing

About the Author
David Szondy David Szondy is a freelance writer based in Monroe, Washington. An award-winning playwright, he has contributed to Charged and iQ magazine and is the author of the website Tales of Future Past. All articles by David Szondy

yeah! a bag of potatoes... that's how i felt last time i crossed the atlantic between 2 fat guys in economy class. Wifi is ok... but more room for real people is necessary.

Yves Hausermann

Boeing said the potatoes were donated to food banks.

Marco Corona

Hopefully, they donated the left-over potatoes to a local food bank. In the long, drawn-out downturn, food banks need every bit of food they can get.

Michael Perry

Wi-fi is a concern. It's been banned in some schools in Canada and recently my fancy barber saloon shop stopped using it as the staff complained about health issues.

Being exposed to radiation has been shown to cause effects. Although it's not proven beyond all doubt, I'd rather use common sense than wait 20 years to get absolute proof. I'm avoiding exposure in the meanwhile and will not fly on flights that have wi-fi, as far as possible.

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