London: US planemaker Boeing has used the humble potato as an unusual substitute for passengers to test its in-flight wi-fi system. Passenger seats on a decommissioned plane were loaded with huge sacks of the tubers for several days as signal strengths were checked.
The company's researchers said that potatoes "interact" with electronic signals in a similar way to humans, the BBC News reported. Boeing's engineers did a number of tests to ensure that passengers would get the strongest possible wi-fi signal while in the air, all while meeting safety standards that protect against interference with an aircraft's electrical systems.
Wireless signals fluctuate randomly in the enclosed space of an aeroplane cabin as people move about. This means that signal distribution is uneven throughout the cabin, with weaker and stronger connectivity in different seats.
"You want your laptop to work anywhere it's located on your seat, [but] there can be significant signal changes just due to the location of the laptop," said Boeing engineer Dennis Lewis.
To test the signal distribution, the firm turned to spuds instead of human test subjects, filling the seats with 9,000 kg of potatoes in sacks. According to Boeing, potatoes' "interactions" with electronic signals mimic those of a human body, making them "the perfect stand-in for people who would otherwise have had to sit motionless for days while the data was gathered".
The UK Potato Council said many people underestimated the humble potato's alternative uses. "[The examples are] in paper and ink manufacturing, potato starch is used in clothing to strengthen the fibres so they don't break during weaving, and for sweetening - glucose can be extracted from potato starch," said the council's spokeswoman.
"For beauty and sores - potatoes have calming, decongestant and astringent properties and raw potatoes can calm tired eyes, potato as alcohol, and potatoes can produce electricity," she said.
Frederic Rosseneu of the European Potato Trade Association Europatat said the organisation was "looking forward to other experiments in which spuds can help to make our lives more convenient".