'Spuds' used to enhance plane WiFi technology

'Spuds' used to enhance plane WiFi technology


by CNN


Posted on December 26, 2012 at 7:38 PM

Updated Wednesday, Dec 26 at 7:40 PM

They're tasty basically anyway you make them--- mashed, baked, scalloped and fried-- we're talking about potatoes. But did you know they are being used to test WiFi on flights. Sound strange?

We are all connected through our phones and our laptops, connected without wires. We call it WiFi.  We can even use these devices on planes.

Frequent flier Mark Reis has all the toys, but says WiFi service on planes is spotty.

A Boeing test video inside a plane shows the problem. Red areas show a strong signal, while blue areas, aren’t quite hot spots.  Depending on where you sit in the plane and depending on how many people sat on the plan, the signal strength changes.

So how does that connect potatoes with passengers?

Enter the world of metrology-- a fancy word for measuring things.

Sitting down in an airline seat inside of what’s called a reverberation lab, engineers take notes on how much of a person’s body covers and affects the WiFi signal trying to reach an internet-capable device.

With just one person in the chamber, the radio waves are affected only a little bit.

Cabin Systems engineer Kenneth Kirchoff says, “It allows us to test different technologies whatever they may be and whatever frequencies they may be."

Now imagine a plane full of people, and that's where the potatoes come in.

Boeing radio wave expert Dennis Lewis explains, “One of our team members proposed the use of potatoes, due to the fact that potatoes have a very similar dialetric constant to humans."

In other words, WiFi radio waves inside a plane react a similar way to potatoes as they do to passengers.

So Boeing engineers loaded up 150 seats on an old DC-10 parked in the Arizona desert to see if they could test how to make WiFi signals work better.

"It wasn't feasible to have two or three hundred people sit still for two or three weeks of testing," Lewis says.

So no matter how you slice it, the testing should make WiFi more reliable, and bake in a little more safety to keep our gizmos from interfering with the plane.

Boeing calls this test "spuds". That stands for: "synthetic personnel using dialetric substitution"