Boeing photo from part of the process of wireless signal testing.

Boeing says it has developed a new method for measuring and analyzing wireless signals inside airplanes, a technological breakthrough that promises to improve the quality of wireless Internet connectivity in passenger cabins. And they’ve confirmed that it works by filling a plane with sacks of potatoes.

No, the potatoes themselves aren’t the technological breakthrough. The company’s test engineers used 20,000 pounds of potatoes as stand-ins for humans — placing multiple sacks on each seat — to test their new techniques inside a decommissioned plane on the ground. The engineers found that the potatoes and humans have “similar physical interactions with electronic signal properties.”

They call it “SPUDS” — Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution.

No, this is not a joke, as far as we can tell. A Boeing spokesman assures us that potatoes were only used in the process of validating the wireless tests. Airlines won’t be making unscheduled stops in Idaho every time they need to adjust the in-flight WiFi signal.

The real breakthrough was a new technique for measuring wireless signals inside a plane, using advanced tools and statistical analysis to figure out precisely where the signals are stronger and weaker, to make adjustments in wireless connectivity without interfering with the airplane’s electrical system.

Boeing says the new measurement and analysis tools reduce testing to 10 hours, from a previous process that took more than two weeks. The company plans to continue to refine and build on what it has learned to help airlines improve connectivity for passengers.

See this Boeing page for a video and more information.

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  • Guest

    And in other news, the major carriers announced today that anyone wishing to use WiFi on flights will be required to rent a potato for the duration of the flight for safety for $50.

  • Guest

    Very cool! I’ve known for years that with judicious usage of potatoes and old clothing, I can pretend to be at the office all day. Good to see that Boeing is taking this idea “in flight.”

  • byron@bikehugger

    I flew that same old, tired seat last week.

  • Jon Poland

    That’s Mr. Potatohead to you!

  • potato man

    I recognize those potatoes…yellow potatoes, grown in Washington, sold at Costco. Not the cheapest ones in the store either…

  • Amal Graafstra

    In past RFID development work, I’ve used 100lbs of brown sugar as a human analogue. Worked really well, and it was easily moldable .

  • Vroo (Bruce Leban)

    so what did they do with the potatoes after the test?

  • Gaby Adam

    Oh my gosh. Laughing out loud over here! Thanks for that, Todd.

  • Richard Sk

    Might have been easier to get 150 volunteers instead – at least they can walk on and off!!!

  • Blueskyaboveclouds

    Is this really going to measure the health impacts of WIFI on humans? Human beings are complex beings that interact in complex ways with WIFI and other EMF radiation. What is WIFI going to do someone sitting in a long-distance flight? We need reliable, long-term (20-30 year) study data on the safety of these technologies rather than arrogantly claiming these things don’t harm humans.

    • Ross Jensen

      due to high altitudes, you encounter much higher doses of radiation due to lack of atmosphere above. It’s insurmountable in comparison also think about the amount of naturally occuring radiation around anyways. Most Wifi routers are about 0.7 – 1 watts on the other hand most light bulbs emit anywhere from 15 – 200 watts of radiation (light infrared ect). might as well shut out the lights and hide in a cave.

  • Ross Jensen

    This is not to test if is safe, we all encounter so many radio-waves everyday, its to figure out how to get signal to propagate throughout the plane. The human body is a giant wall to the radiation (radio waves) and they need to figure out how to get it to reflect, around the cabin.

    • Dlo Burns

      So are you saying the average person is as dense as a potato?

  • jaystrab

    Knight: Therefore, if she weighs as much as a sack of potatoes…?
    Peasant: She’s a WITCH!!

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