We've already learned that in-flight Wi-Fi will be getting a whole lot better next year, but what wasn't clear was just how we're going to be seeing such a big leap in performance. Now Boeing has revealed that 20,000 pounds of potatoes played a key role.
It turns out that an airplane cabin is an incredibly complex area for Wi-Fi signal penetration, with everything from metal seat frames, luggage, food carts and even people just waiting to block Wi-Fi signals from connecting your laptop or tablet. So while in one seat you may get a terrific signal, the guy next to you could be in a dead zone.
Before Boeing could figure out how to distribute the signal more evenly, it needed a way to map the signal strength around an airplane cabin very accurately. Human bodies play a major role in blocking the signal, but where could Boeing get a couple of hundred people who would voluntarily sit still for weeks as it performed its tests?
The answer was to use potatoes, which apparently have similar signal absorbing properties to humans. The giant sacks of spuds could be moved around as needed, filling some seats while leaving others empty. And of course Boeing named the program SPUDS, for Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution. Thanks to SPUDS, better Wi-Fi will be coming to a flight near you early next year, along with an in-flight snack of potato chips. Lots of potato chips.
Check out the video to learn more about SPUDS.