December 20, 2012
Boeing Tests In-flight Wi-Fi On Planes Using Potatoes Instead Of Humans
Michael Harper for redOrbit.com — Your Universe Online
Complex mathematical models, sophisticated testing instruments, well-stocked laboratories, and potatoes: All things used by Boeing to improve their Wi-Fi offerings in their airplanes.
In one of the more extreme cases of “One of These Things Is Not Like the Others,” Boeing released a report yesterday detailing their entire testing process to make sure passengers can make use of a fully firing Wi-Fi connection. The potatoes, as it turns out, were used as human analogs– sitting in for a plane full of humans so humans didn´t have to.
"Every day we work to ensure that Boeing passengers are traveling on the safest and most advanced airplanes in the world," explained Dennis O´Donoghue, the vice president of Boeing Test and Evaluation in a statement.
"This is a perfect example of how our innovations in safety can make the entire flying experience better."
Though it may not sound entirely innovative to stuff a decommissioned plane with 20,000 tubers, it certainly is a creative solution to a problem.
The Boeing team even gave the project a forced acronym: SPUDS, or Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution.
The SPUDS team had to record how the human body responds to such electronic signals, but weren´t yet ready to ask a large group of human beings to sit-in for the tests. As it turns out, the entire task of finding such a group, corralling them and possibly compensating them would have made for quite the hassle. The potatoes, however, were reported as having no real problems helping with the test. With the potatoes in the chairs, the SPUDS team positioned their equipment and honed their testing methods. Once this was completed, they were able to validate the data with humans.
The Boeing team said they were able to complete testing in hours whereas it previously took weeks.
"One of the wonderful aspects of our improved testing is that we can describe both strong and weak signals with incredible accuracy," said Boeing spokesperson Adam Tischler who spoke with 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."
In the end, Boeing hopes they´ll be able to deliver a fine wireless network to each of their passengers, both human and spud alike.
Though airlines have been offering their own Wi-Fi networks for a few years now, the FAA continues to ban the use of other wireless devices, such as cell phones or cellular-connected tablets, on American airplanes. The tech-minded chairman of the FCC, Julius Genachowski, recently asked the FAA to reconsider this long-standing ban and allow passengers to use their mobile devices in-flight.
The FAA has looked into allowing these devices before, but at the end of their tests had concluded: “There was no evidence saying these devices can´t interfere with a plane, and there was no evidence saying that they can.”
Boeing also announced that once the potatoes had their fill of electronic waves, they were donated to a local food bank.