Airlines and aircraft makers use sacks of potatoes to test in-flight wireless internet connections
Sunday 23 December 2012
If the wireless internet connection during your holiday flight seems
more reliable than it used to, you could have the humble potato to
While major airlines offer in-flight Wi-Fi on many flights, the signal strength can be spotty.
Airlines and aircraft makers have been striving to improve this and engineers at Chicago-based Boeing used sacks of potatoes as stand-ins for passengers as they worked to eliminate weak spots in in-flight wireless signals.
They needed full planes to get accurate results during signal testing, but they could not ask people to sit motionless for days while data was gathered.
"That's where potatoes come into the picture," Boeing spokesman Adam Tischler said.
It turns out that potatoes - because of their water content and chemistry - absorb and reflect radio wave signals much the same way as the human body does, making them suitable substitutes for airline passengers.
"It's a testament to the ingenuity of these engineers. They didn't go in with potatoes as the plan," Mr Tischler said.
Recapping the serendipitous path that led to better on-board wireless, Mr Tischler said a member of the research team stumbled across an article in the Journal of Food Science describing research in which 15 vegetables and fruits were evaluated for their dielectric properties, or the way they transmit electric force without conduction.
Its conclusions led the Boeing researchers to wonder if potatoes might serve just as well as humans during their own signal testing. Despite some skepticism, they ended up buying 20,000lbs of them.
Video and photos of the work, which started in 2006, show a decommissioned plane loaded with row upon row of potato sacks that look like large, lumpy passengers. The sacks sit eerily still in the seats as the engineers collect data on the strength of wireless signals in various spots.
The Boeing engineers added some complicated statistical analysis and the result was a proprietary system for fine tuning internet signals so they would be strong and reliable wherever a laptop was used on a plane.
Boeing says the system also ensures Wi-Fi signals will not interfere with the plane's sensitive navigation and communications equipment.
"From a safety standpoint, you want to know what the peak signals are, what's the strongest signal one of our communications and navigation systems might see from a laptop or 150 laptops or 350 laptops," Boeing engineer Dennis Lewis explains in a video.
In a nod to the humor 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.
- 1 Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Pro-Russian rebel 'admits to shooting down plane'
- 2 Louis van Gaal gets tough with Manchester United players, with Darren Fletcher and Luke Shaw berated in public and Phil Jones left looking bemused
- 3 Is Gideon Levy the most hated man in Israel or just the most heroic?
- 4 Peaches Geldof inquest: Tragic final moments of socialite's life reveal she lied to husband about failed heroin tests
- 5 Israel has discovered that it's no longer so easy to get away with murder in the age of social media
Lana Del Rey: 'I have slept with a lot of guys in the industry'
Peaches Geldof cause of death: 'Heroin addict' socialite had taken fatal dose of drug, inquest concludes
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Pro-Russian rebel 'admits to shooting down plane'
Peaches Geldof inquest: Tragic final moments of socialite's life reveal she lied to husband about failed heroin tests
Israel-Gaza conflict: The myth of Hamas’s human shields
Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crash: 'Nine Britons, 23 Americans and 80 children' feared dead after Boeing passenger jet is 'shot down' near Ukraine-Russia border
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Vladimir Putin is given 'one last chance' to end hostilities in Ukraine
The 'scroungers’ fight back: The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Ukrainian military jet was flying close to passenger plane before it was shot down, says Russian officer
Malaysia Airlines MH17 crash: Massive rise in sale of British arms to Russia
£35000 - £45000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: If you're pa...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Business...
£40000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client, a...
£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: SAP Functional ...