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What do Potatoes have to do with Wi-Fi?

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What do Potatoes have to do with Wi-Fi?

Have you ever heard potatoes absorb Wi-Fi signals? A potato contains water and chemistry that absorbs and reflects wave signals. Potatoes are also capable of producing energy. While we do not directly use them in technology, we do use them to substitute for human testing situations. Check out this blog to find out how it is possible!


Can you imagine life without wireless internet connections in this 21st century? The Internet has been a constant part of our lives for a relatively long time now. It is hard to imagine a time when we used to survive without constant internet access. The importance of Wi-Fi is understood by everyone, whether they are big corporations or small businesses.


Most cafes, restaurants, and airports provide free Wi-Fi. It is even possible to access Wi-Fi in airplanes, previously where you were virtually cut off from the outside world. Now you can catch up on work or binge-watch your favourite Netflix show on a plane ride that was once dominated by boring in-flight entertainment.


In what way does Wi-Fi work?


The term Wi-Fi stands for wireless fidelity. Like other wireless devices, Wi-Fi uses radio frequencies to send signals between devices. It enables you to connect to the internet without wires or cables, as its name suggests. Information is instead transmitted via radio waves of a specific frequency (gigahertz).

To watch videos or binge on web series using Wi-Fi, you need the following:

  • Internet: A computer network links together a large number of computers. An internet service provider provides our internet connection.
  • Modem: Internet access requires a modem connected to a cable connection to your internet service provider. Using an Ethernet cable, it receives signals from your internet provider and translates them to the router.
  • Router: The router converts the received data into radio waves after it receives it from the modem.
  • Wireless Device: It is possible to receive Wi-Fi signals on your phone, laptop, tablet, and other devices by using the built-in ‘wireless adapter’.


How does Wi-Fi work in an Airplane?

Airplanes receive Wi-Fi radio signals in two waves: through air-to-ground Wi-Fi and Satellite Wi-Fi. Signals are received through an antenna.

  • Air-to-ground Wi-Fi:  As the airplane passes within the range of a network tower, it receives signal waves and then moves on to the next tower’s network as it completes its journey. A plane can only do this if it is flying close to the ground.
  • Satellite Wi-Fi: When flying over large stretches of the ocean, aircraft use Wi-Fi signals that they receive from satellites orbiting the Earth. Due to the movement of the satellite and airplane, the antennae need to be adjusted frequently to receive signals.


Suppose you are at a party and you receive a call from a friend asking you to send an important project via email. Your phone has a poor network, and there is no Wi-Fi to connect to. You are all set with your email, but your phone does not have a good network. Your best option is to ask a friend with a better network provider to turn on their ‘hotspot’ and allow you access to their network. You send the email successfully, and all is well!

In a similar way to your friend’s phone, an airplane provides hotspot access to its passengers.


Why are Potatoes used to test Wi-Fi in an Airplane?


Radio waves cannot penetrate all types of matter, unlike Superman’s laser beams. A radio wave can be absorbed, reflected, or refracted depending on the object. Because Wi-Fi signals are radio waves, they are also absorbed by certain objects and lose strength.

In an airplane, there are an average of 200 people seated in rows. As a way to ensure uniform Wi-Fi coverage across the plane, engineers at Boeing Co. (A leading manufacturer of airplanes) recruited ‘test subjects’ to help identify the approximate strength of Wi-Fi and possible weak spots.


To generate data, they found it more convenient to use potato sacks instead of human test subjects. Potatoes absorb and reflect radio waves in much the same way as the human body, making them a suitable substitute for airline passengers due to their water content and chemistry.


In photos and videos taken since 2006, a decommissioned airplane is loaded with rows after rows of potato sacks that appear to be large, lumpy passengers. As the engineers gather data on the strength of wireless signals around the world, the sacks remain bizarrely still in the seats.

To evoke the humour inherent in using a potato for a high-tech problem, researchers dubbed their project Synthetic Personnel Using Dialectic Substitution or SPUDS. 


Key Takeaways 

Many of us are familiar with the delicious taste of potatoes, as well as their nutritional benefits and their use in paper and cloth manufacturing. Who knew that their impeccable contributions to global connectivity would be so significant?

Interestingly, even as science progresses and research becomes more sophisticated, simple methods can still be used to achieve optimal results.

Also published on Medium.

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