Boeing Uses Potatoes Instead of People to Test Wi-Fi

In the quest to improve in-flight Wi-Fi, Boeing, the renowned aircraft manufacturer, came up with a rather unconventional approach. Instead of using human beings as test subjects, they decided to turn to the humble potato. Yes, you read that right – potatoes! This unique experiment aimed to identify weak spots in in-flight wireless signals and find ways to enhance their performance. In this article, we will explore Boeing’s ingenious use of potatoes as substitutes for passengers during signal testing, the science behind it, and the potential impact on in-flight Wi-Fi experience.

The Need for In-Flight Wi-Fi Signal Testing

With the growing demand for connectivity, many planes now offer in-flight Wi-Fi. However, ensuring a seamless connection at 35,000 feet can be challenging. The engineers at Boeing recognized the importance of accurate signal testing to fine-tune in-flight Wi-Fi and avoid interference with navigation and communication equipment. Conducting these tests on full planes with actual passengers would be impractical and inconvenient. Hence, the need arose for an alternative solution to mimic the behavior of humans in this testing process.

Synthetic Personnel Using Dialectic Substitution (SPUDS) Project

Boeing’s innovative initiative, known as the Synthetic Personnel Using Dialectic Substitution (SPUDS) project, sought to find a suitable substitute for human passengers during in-flight Wi-Fi signal testing. The engineers discovered that potatoes share similarities with humans in terms of their interaction with radio wave signals. Due to their water content and chemical composition, potatoes can absorb and reflect radio wave signals in a manner comparable to human bodies.

Boeing spokesperson Adam Tischler explained, “It’s a testament to the ingenuity of these engineers. They didn’t go in with potatoes as the plan.” The company procured a staggering 20,000 pounds of potatoes, which they used as stand-ins for passengers during their experiments.

The Science Behind Potatoes and Radio Wave Signals

Potatoes possess a high water content, making them an ideal medium for testing radio wave signals. Water molecules, like those found in potatoes, are excellent conductors of electricity. When radio waves encounter water, they induce an alternating electric field, causing the water molecules to vibrate. This vibration leads to the absorption and reflection of the radio waves, similar to how human bodies interact with these signals.

Moreover, potatoes demonstrate a dielectric constant, a measure of their ability to store electrical energy when subjected to an electric field. This property makes them an effective substitute for humans, as both potatoes and humans have dielectric constants within a similar range.

The Testing Process

To simulate a plane full of passengers, Boeing utilized an astounding 20,000 pounds of potatoes. These sacks of potatoes were strategically placed throughout the aircraft, replicating the positioning of human bodies. By conducting signal tests with the potatoes in place, Boeing’s engineers were able to collect accurate data on signal strength and identify potential weak spots.

Through extensive experimentation and analysis, Boeing developed a proprietary system that allowed them to fine-tune in-flight Wi-Fi signals. The company successfully enhanced signal strength on three of their aircraft models, namely the 777, 747-8, and the 787 Dreamliner. These improvements have resulted in stronger Wi-Fi signals for passengers flying on these aircraft.

The Benefits of Potato Testing

The use of potatoes as substitutes for passengers in in-flight Wi-Fi signal testing offers several advantages. Firstly, the use of potatoes eliminates the need for human subjects, avoiding potential discomfort and inconvenience during the testing process. Secondly, potatoes provide a cost-effective solution for conducting large-scale signal tests. Instead of paying individuals to sit idle in an airplane, Boeing can achieve accurate results with sacks of potatoes, which can be easily procured at a lower cost.

Furthermore, potato testing allows for more precise analysis of signal strength and potential interference issues. By studying how radio waves interact with potatoes, Boeing’s engineers can develop strategies to optimize in-flight Wi-Fi performance and ensure a seamless connectivity experience for passengers.

Future Implications for In-Flight Wi-Fi

Boeing’s unconventional use of potatoes in signal testing has paved the way for significant improvements in in-flight Wi-Fi. With the knowledge gained from the SPUDS project, Boeing has enhanced signal strength on select aircraft models, but the potential impact extends beyond these specific planes.

As the aviation industry continues to prioritize connectivity, Boeing’s findings could inform the design and implementation of better in-flight Wi-Fi systems across various aircraft. Passengers can look forward to more reliable and faster internet access during their flights, enhancing productivity, entertainment, and communication options while in the air.


Boeing’s decision to use potatoes as substitutes for passengers in in-flight Wi-Fi signal testing showcases the company’s ingenuity and commitment to enhancing the travel experience. Through the SPUDS project, Boeing has leveraged the similarities between potatoes and humans in their interaction with radio wave signals, allowing them to fine-tune in-flight Wi-Fi systems and provide stronger connections for passengers.

The use of potatoes not only eliminates the need for human subjects but also offers a cost-effective and accurate method for signal testing. With the knowledge gained from this project, Boeing has made significant strides in improving in-flight Wi-Fi on select aircraft models, and these advancements are likely to benefit passengers on other planes in the future.

As technology continues to advance, the day is not far when passengers will enjoy seamless connectivity and fast internet speeds during their flights, thanks to groundbreaking initiatives like Boeing’s SPUDS project. So the next time you’re flying and using the in-flight Wi-Fi, remember that it was once tested using sacks of potatoes, proving that even humble vegetables can contribute to technological advancements in unexpected ways.

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