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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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