Boeing Uses Potatoes to Improve In-Flight WiFi

Dennis Faas's picture

US-based aerospace and defense firm Boeing is working to improve the WiFi Internet service on its commercial aircraft. Surprisingly, the company is using potatoes as a low-tech solution to a high-tech problem.

Recently, Boeing loaded passenger seats on a grounded aircraft with 9,000 kilograms (kg) of potatoes in sacks for several days, as technicians meticulously checked WiFi signal strengths.

Because of their overall chemistry and high levels of water content, potatoes absorb and reflect radio wave signals much the same as human bodies. This makes standard spuds a suitable substitute for airline passengers in signal strength tests. (Source:

Potato Idea Stems from "Electric" Article

The initial idea to use potatoes as a human substitute in the tests resulted from a member of the Boeing research team having read an article in the Journal of Food Science.

The article pointed to similar experiments where 15 different fruits and vegetables were evaluated for their dielectric properties (the way they transmit electric force without conduction).

Despite criticism for comparing human bodies to potatoes, Boeing went ahead and purchased 20,000 pounds of potatoes for its WiFi experiments.

The S.P.U.D.S. Project

Boeing has humorously dubbed the project Synthetic Personnel Using Dialectic Substitution (or S.P.U.D.S.).

The sacks of potatoes were left for days aboard the motionless aircraft in an effort to identify which seats experienced the strongest signal strength. Boeing researchers were then able to investigate more detailed questions about how to improve on-board WiFi service.

On regular flights, wireless signals have a tendency to fluctuate randomly within aircraft cabins, making connectivity weaker and stronger in different seats. (Source:

Now, after conducting their potato research and implementing specific alterations, Boeing says it was able to significantly improve the WiFi service on three of its aircraft models: the Boeing 777, 747-8 and 787 Dreamliner.

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