By David Murphy
- December 23, 2012 03:51pm EST
The headlines just write themselves sometimes.
Boeing, in a quest to develop a more reliable method for deploying wireless connectivity during flight, decided to go to grocery store for a bit of assistance. And, go figure, the airplane manufacturer’s experimentation worked.
By substituting sacks of potatoes for human beings as part of its cleverly named, “Project SPUDS,” Boeing has been able to improve its wireless testing capabilities which, in turn, should allow the manufacturer to be able to tweak the wireless capabilities of its planes to ensure more consistent, speedy access around the cabin.
Yes, sacks of potatoes.
As it turns out, the 20,000 pounds or so of potatoes that Boeing used to fill the seats of a test aircraft cabin serve as excellent stand-ins for the hundreds of actual people that the company’s tests would otherwise require. Potatoes, it seems, do a great job of replicating the normal interactions between wireless signals and a living, human body, although human subjects were eventually used for the last bits of Boeing’s wireless testing.
According to the company, the replacement potatoes allowed Boeing to reduce its overall wireless testing time from more than two weeks to just 10 short hours. Additionally, engineers deployed a new, proprietary method for measuring signal quality in the tests that allegedly increased Boeing’s overall testing efficiency. These undisclosed methods were first developed to allow the company to test that wireless signals weren’t interfering with the aircraft’s electrical systems.
“One of the wonderful aspects of our improved testing is that we can describe both strong and weak signals with incredible accuracy,” said Boeing spokesman Adam Tischler in a statement provided to CNN.
“Engineers who are concerned primarily with operational safety of an airplane can see if the strong signals are safe for the airplane’s communication and navigation systems. Meanwhile, an engineer who is concerned with getting every passenger a really good network signal can see if the weak signals are propagating through the airplane with enough power to provide a good usability experience.”
The spud stand-ins were eventually donated to a local food bank.