Spuds on a Plane: Taters Test Signal Strength

Here’s a harsh truth: a wireless signal can’t tell the difference between you and a sack of potatoes.

Pictured: You?

But don’t take it personally; WiFi feels the same way about all of us humans, at least according to Boeing researchers. That’s why they put 20,000 pounds of passenger potatoes on a decommissioned plane in a project known as SPUDS (Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution).

Potatoes are People Too

“We used potatoes because they interact with signals like WiFi signals very similarly to the way the human body does,” said Boeing spokesman Adam Tischler. The salt and water content of potatoes gives them similar dielectric properties to our own, so they can be substituted in the place of live human test subjects when gauging the effectiveness of an airplane’s wireless network and signal strength. There are plenty of obvious advantages to this substitution—potatoes don’t complain about airline food, they don’t bring screeching children on board, and they hardly ever hijack planes.

Seriously, though, the potato people create an effective simulation of a packed flight, which Boeing’s technicians can use to test signal strength at every point of the aircraft. The same testing has been used to enhance air safety and ensure that wireless signals don’t interfere with an airplane’s navigation system or other essential devices. Through experiments like these, they determine ways to deliver a more consistent WiFi experience throughout the plane, from the tubers in coach to the taters in first class. Several Boeing models (the 777, the 747-8, and the 787 Dreamliner) have already benefited from the potato-based research, which actually began back in 2006. Incidentally, Snakes on a Plane was released that same year…perhaps potatoes weren’t their first attempt at a substitute?


Draw your own conclusions.

Draw your own conclusions.

What’s Next?

We’re curious to find out what sort of outside-the-box research Boeing will think of next, but their lips are sealed for now. R&D engineer Ken Kirchoff said, “While we can’t talk about future research, we are always looking for innovative ways to improve the safety and reliability of our products and to deliver the most advanced solutions to our airline customers.”

photo credit: Bleuchoi via photopin cc


Brent Urmey is an avid reader and writer on a variety of subjects, including social media, SEO, the Wireless industry, and life in Lancaster County, PA. He is a graduate of Drexel University and a survivor of the 2012 Mayan Apocalypse. You can connect with Brent on Google +.