You may be able to make chips out of them, but potatoes probably aren’t the first thing you think of when considering technological advancements.
Rather than real-life passengers, US planemaker Boeing used the root vegetables to test its in-flight wi-fi system.
Tubers were loaded up onto seats of a decommissioned plane while Boeing checked signal strengths. The idea was to make sure passengers were able to get the best wi-fi signal while flying, while making sure safety standards are met.
According to Boeing’s researchers, potatoes were used because they “interact” with electronic signals in a similar way to people but, unlike humans, the spuds wouldn’t have been bored while taking part in the test.
Boeing described potatoes as “the perfect stand-in for people who would otherwise have had to sit motionless for days while the data was gathered.”
It would normally mean 200 people would have to sit on an airliner during the two-week experiment, an expensive test for Boeing.
In a statement, Boeing said its test engineers had “created a new process for measuring signal quality, using proprietary measurement technology and analysis tools after realising the technology’s potential during a small-scale calibration testing on lab tools. By adapting the lab approach to a large airplane, engineers could more efficiently measure signal strength and propagation, ensuring safe yet robust signal penetration throughout an airplane cabin.”
It’s a pretty fancy way of talking about an experiment involving potatoes.
The firm used a total of 9,000kg potatoes in sacks to improve wireless coverage. As people move about the cabin, wireless signals can change in the enclosed space of the aeroplane so you can get weaker and stronger connectivity depending on where you are sitting.
The program was called Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution (Spuds). The test results were verified later by real people.
Boeing engineer Dennis Lewis said: “You want your laptop to work anywhere it’s located on your seat, but there can be significant signal changes just due to the location of the laptop.”
Vice president of Boeing Test & Evaluation Dennis O’Donoghue, said: “Every day, we work to ensure that Boeing passengers are travelling on the safest and most advanced airplanes in the world. This is a perfect example of how our innovations in safety can make the entire flying experience better.”
Wi-fi internet connections are provided on airplanes but the Federal Communications Commission and the Federal Aviation Administration have prohibited US airlines from allowing cell phones in flight because of fears over interference. Mobile phone use is allowed by some countries, however, through specially designed receivers which are sold and installed by Boeing.
So, next time you’re flying on a Boeing aircraft, or one with Boeing devices, you may just have the humble potato to thank for your wi-fi signal. It seems potatoes really are the most versatile of vegetable. And, apparently, their use does not stop there. Boeing has now donated all of its ersatz passengers to a food bank.