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article imageBoeing testing in-flight Internet capabilities with potatoes

By Milton Este     Dec 22, 2012 in Technology
Although current frequent travelers won't enjoy the luxury of in-plane internet access, Boeing is officially working on it. There's no mention on when this feature will be implemented on commercial air planes, but it is nice to know it will one day.
It's probably surprising to hear that the structure of the air plane makes implementing a wireless hot-spot extremely excruciating. The actual process is quite simple, but a common problem lies within connecting to the hot-spot. Because the of air plane's design, many passengers will be experiencing either a very weak signal or no signal at all.
While you are probably complaining about the one bar signal strength you are getting, the person next to you probably isn't even getting a signal at all. Wi-Fi signals, apparently, do not travel and spread out very well, especially with the metal seats, luggage, food carts, and passengers all acting as barriers.
Boeing is currently testing how to evenly and effectively distribute the signal even after taking into consideration of all the potential barriers. Since it probably isn't the best idea to hire a couple hundred of strangers to just sit in the cabin while the Boeing engineers are trying to map out the signals, Boeing has decided to use potatoes instead.
It is surprising to see that potatoes actually have similar absorption compared to humans. Approximately 20,000 pounds of potatoes are used by Boeing engineers to be placed throughout the plane for testing.
According to Wired UK:
"'Inside the aircraft it's a very complex electromagnetic environment,' said metrology engineer, Dennis Lewis. '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.'
'Every day we work to ensure that Boeing passengers are travelling on the safest and most advanced airplanes in the world,' said Dennis O'Donoghue, the vice president of Boeing's Test and Evaluation sector. 'This is a perfect example of how our innovations in safety can make the entire flying experience better.'"
This project is known as SPUDS (Pun) or the Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution. Hopefully, this project will be complete in a few years time, otherwise there will be about 20,000 pounds of potatoes going bad.
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