Vid Boeing engineers have filled an aeroplane with potatoes to improve wireless internet coverage on flights.
Substituting their passengers for approximately 20,000 pounds (9,000kg) of potatoes, engineers at Boeing's Test & Evaluation Laboratory are trying to work out how best to propagate Wi-Fi signals through a busy aeroplane cabin. The technology is aptly called SPUDS: Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution.
One little-vaunted quality of potatoes is that they respond to electromagnetic waves in a similar way to the human body, so the sacks are a good stand-in for airline travellers.
Using potatoes instead of real people speeds up the testing period from two weeks to ten hours.
The engineers want to ensure that they can keep an aeroplane's communications and navigation systems running while boosting in-flight Wi-Fi hotspots; such access points already exist but their reception could be improved.
"One of the wonderful aspects of our improved testing is that we can describe both strong and weak signals with incredible accuracy," Boeing spokesman Adam Tischler told CNN. He added:
Engineers who are concerned primarily with operational safety of an airplane can see if the strong signals are safe for the airplane's communication and navigation systems. Meanwhile, an engineer who is concerned with getting every passenger a really good network signal can see if the weak signals are propagating through the airplane with enough power to provide a good usability experience.
The Wi-Fi-exposed spuds are donated to a food bank after testing. ®