Hedy Lamarr Helped Invent Wifi

By Deane Barker on July 13, 2012

Hedy Lamarr: This might be the most bizarre piece of trivia you’ll hear today (for the young ones among us — Hedy Lamarr was a famous actress back in the 40s; one of the “screen sirens” of the Golden Age of Cinema).

[…] Antheil and Lamarr submitted the idea of a secret communication system in June 1941. On August 11, 1942, US Patent 2,292,387 was granted to Antheil and “Hedy Kiesler Markey”, Lamarr’s married name at the time. This early version of frequency hopping used a piano roll to change between 88 frequencies and was intended to make radio-guided torpedoes harder for enemies to detect or jam.

[…]  The idea was not implemented in the USA until 1962, when it was used by U.S. military ships during a blockade of Cuba after the patent had expired. Perhaps owing to this lag in development, the patent was little-known until 1997, when the Electronic Frontier Foundation gave Lamarr an award for this contribution.[1] It is reported that, in 1998, Ottawa wireless technology developer Wi-LAN, Inc. “acquired a 49 percent claim to the patent from Lamarr for an undisclosed amount of stock” […]

Lamarr’s and Antheil’s frequency-hopping idea serves as a basis for modern spread-spectrum communication technology, such as Bluetooth, COFDM used in Wi-Fi network connections, and CDMA used in some cordless and wireless telephones.

Of course, saying she helped “invent” wifi is problematic, which brings us back to the guy who claims to have invented email and the related discussion about idea collisions and The Adjacent Possible.

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