Before an airplane that's equipped with WiFi can be used for public service, it must undergo intense testing and evaluations first. Boeing, specifically, has an interesting way of going about that. Instead of hiring 100 or so people to act as passengers on a flight, Boeing rounds up 20,000 of potatoes to simulate the effects of human bodies on a plane.
Boeing must check that onboard wireless signals don't interfere with navigation and communication systems, and in order to get the best possible results, they use what they cleverly call SPUDS (Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution) to help replicate how airborne signals are bounced and absorbed by real-life passengers, but without the need for Boeing to go out and find real people who will sit for hours on end.
Boeing spokesman Adam Tischler said that the sacks of potatoes accurately replicate the way human passengers reflect and absorb electronic signals. Furthermore, this strange method has dramatically shortened testing times for Boeing. What usually took two weeks now only takes a few hours, thanks to SPUDS.
It turns out that there are a lot of considerations for optimizing WiFi in an aircraft. The company explains how signal variations can shift dramatically even in a small area, and there's also the difficult task of finding the best WiFi signal strength for passengers without interrupting critical communication systems in the cockpit.
[via LA Times]
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