Boeing uses sacks of potatoes as substitutes for humans during in-flight WiFi testing.

POSTED: Saturday, December 29, 2012 - 10:00am

UPDATED: Saturday, December 29, 2012 - 10:04am

Boeing calls it the SPUD test. It stands for "Synthetic Personnel Using Dielectric Substitution" - a fancy way of saying, we used potatoes to stand in for people in radio testing.

Last summer, inside a retired DC-10 parked in the Arizona desert, Boeing engineers loaded sacks of potatoes in the shape of people sitting in 150 seats.

"One of our team members proposed the use of potatoes, due to the fact that potatoes have a very similar dielectric constant to humans," said Dennis Lewis, a Boeing associate technical fellow in the area of microwave and antenna metrology for the company's Test and Evaluation organization.

Lewis measures and calibrates electric equipment very precisely. And pound for pound, he says the potatoes affect radio waves like people do. For a long running experiment, actual people weren't going to sit still for that long.

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