Airline uses potatoes


You could have the humble potato to thank if the wireless internet connection during your holiday flight seems more reliable than it used. The signal strength can be spotty while major airlines offer in flight Wi-Fi on many flights.

Aircraft and Airline’s makers have been striving to improve this with the growing use of wireless devices and the number of people who don’t want to be disconnected.

Engineers at the Chicago-based Boeing used sacks of potatoes as stand-ins for passengers as they worked to eliminate weak spots in-flight wireless signals.

They needed full planes to get accurate results during signal testing, but they couldn’t ask people to sit motionless for days while data was gathered.

US Spuds 1

The Boeing spokesman Adam Tischler said “That’s where potatoes come into the picture.”

This turns out that potatoes because of their chemistry and water content to absorb and reflect radio wave signals much the same way as the human body does.

Mr Tischler said “It’s a testament to the ingenuity of these engineers. They didn’t go in with potatoes as the plan.”


Mr. Tischler said a member of the research team stumbled across an article in the Journal of Food Science recapping the path that led to better onboard wireless. That describes research in which 15 fruits and vegetables were evaluated for their dielectric properties or the way they transmit electric force without conduction.

The conclusions led the Boeing researchers to wonder if potatoes might serve just as well as humans during their own signal testing. They ended up buying 9,000 kilograms of those despite some skepticism.

Photos and Video of the work which started in 2006 show a decommissioned airplane loaded with row upon row of potato sacks that look like large, lumpy passengers.

The Boeing engineers added some complicated statistical analysis. The result was a proprietary system for fine tuning internet signals. So they would be reliable and strong wherever a laptop was used on a plane.


Boeing says the system also ensures Wi-Fi signals won’t interfere with the plane’s sensitive navigation and communications equipment.

In a nod to the humour in using a tuber to solve a high-tech problem, researchers dubbed the project Synthetic Personnel Using Dialectic Substitution, or Spuds.

The company says better Wi-Fi signals can be found already on three Boeing aircraft models flown by major airlines: 777, 747-8 and the 787 Dreamliner.

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