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 BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
- 2 A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
- 3 18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
- 4 'I wish my teacher knew...': Young students share their 'heartbreaking' worries in notes
- 5 Rebecca Francis accuses Ricky Gervais of using 'influence' to target female hunters after receiving barrage of death threats
General Election 2015: David Cameron catching up in polls – but he badly needs a clear lead
The Hubble Space Telescope's amazing journey 25 years on
South Africa xenophobic attacks: Shops looted and violence on streets of Johannesburg as foreigners are forced to hide in police stations
Earthworms rain down from skies over Norway, puzzling scientists
18th century sex toy found in 'toilet of sword fighting school' in Poland
The only black face in the Ukip manifesto is on the page about overseas aid
Ukip is the only main political party to not address LGBT rights in its manifesto
If I’m being racially abused I don’t need a white stranger with a saviour complex to rescue me
BBC election debate: The one photo that summed up the whole 90-minute leaders debate
Religion isn't growing, it is becoming vigorous in its demise, says philosopher AC Grayling
Russian warships in English Channel 'to conduct anti-aircraft and anti-submarine military drills'
£30000 - £40000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: Front-End UI Application ...
£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...
£27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Domestic Service Only Engineers are requ...
£23600 - £27500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Employability Service withi...