When you hear that a company like Boeing has been examining ways to improve the strength and consistency of a Wi-Fi signal inside passengers planes, your mind may well conjure up images of banks of computers, complicated machinery and lots of sensors. What you won’t imagine is numerous sacks of potatoes on seats. But the vegetable many of us eat every day is exactly what the airplane manufacturer has been using in its research project – a project it calls SPUDS (Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution). You can look at the calendar all you like. It’s not April 1.
According to an article by Boeing’s Adam Tischler about the SPUDS project, engineers tested out the measurement technology in the cabin of a de-commissioned passenger plane using state-of-the-art equipment, cutting-edge science and 20,000 pounds of potatoes.
“The team determined that sacks of potatoes were ideal stand-ins for passengers, given their similar physical interactions with electronic signal properties,” Tischler explains. “Much of the testing was conducted on the grounded airplane with the seats filled with 20,000 pounds of potatoes in sacks. The test data was then validated with human stand-in ‘passengers.’” A video (below) about the research includes the bizarre sight of rows and rows of plane seats filled with sacks of potatoes.
The video’s narrator says the vegetables were the perfect replacement for people “who would otherwise have had to sit motionless for days on end while data was gathered.”
The procedures developed show Boeing engineers the precise locations of strong and weak Wi-Fi signals throughout the cabin and allows them to see how the signal interacts with critical communication and navigation systems on the plane.
Boeing said the methods it developed cut the time it takes to test Wi-Fi signals from two weeks to just 10 hours.
“These systems will [help to] provide continuous and uninterrupted service to our passengers,” said Boeing metrology engineer Dennis Lewis.
No potatoes were harmed during the course of the research, although they’ve probably since been eaten.
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