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What Do Boeing and Mr. Potato Head Have in Common?

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

I was reading with interest about the problem airlines have had with customer complaints regarding dropouts of internet service while in flight. If you have ever tried to use the airlines in-flight Wi-Fi, the signal strength can be very spotty causing disruptions of service or complete loss of service.

When confronted with this dilemma,  engineers at Boeing Corporation in Chicago went to work on trying to solve this problem.  

In order to work on the problem they needed a plane filled with people to begin testing ideas. Asking people to sit motionless for days was just going to be an option. Since the human body is made up of mostly water, and humans were not going to be an option, a new plan of action came forward. The potato. That’s right, the potato.  Not just one but thousands of potatoes in sacks to represent people and placed in airplane seats.

Potatoes, because of their water content, can absorb and reflect radio wave signals just like the human body does which made the potato the perfect “air traveler”.  It was an ingenious idea that has, believe it or not, led to better Wi-Fi reception on flights.

Some 20,000 pounds of potatoes were set up as “passengers” for the testing which began back in 2006.  What came out of the experiment is a finely tuned system for internet usage while making sure the signals won’t interfere with the plane’s navigational system.

And you thought Mr. Potato Head was just a potato you stuck a pin in. My, how far we have come.

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