Wednesday, 11 March 2015

Hedy Lamarr, the Inventor

Did you know that besides being an actress and one of the most beautiful women in the world, Hedy Lamarr was also an expert mathematician and inventor?

Hedy Lamarr (1914-2000)
While married to her first husband, Fritz Mandl, one of Europe's most prominent arms manufacturers and a Nazi sympathizer, Hedy Lamarr was forced to accompany him to his business meetings with scientists and other professionals involved in military technology. These conferences introduced her to the field of applied science and awakened her latent talent in the scientific field. When the United States entered World War II following the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Lamarr, who in the meantime had become an established actress in Hollywood, wanted to do more to help the war effort than just sell war bonds. She wanted to use her interest in science to aid in the defeat of Nazism and Adolf Hitler, who was relentlessly attacking Europe.

In the early 1940s, Lamarr met the avant-garde composer and Nazi opponent George Antheil at a party and they became friends. Antheil also wanted to do anything he could to help the war effort and soon they started working on what they called the "Secret Communications System." I'm not understood in this kind of matters, but this is what I could gather from how the invention worked. Lamarr and Antheil were able to develop a mechanism that used identical piano rolls to manipulate radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, forming an unbreakable code that prevented classified messages from being intercepted by the enemy. They wanted to use this with radio-controlled torpedoes, which were important in the naval war, but could easily be jammed and rerouted. Lamarr and Antheil submitted their patent in 1941 and were awarded U.S. Patent 2,292,387 for the "Secret Communication System" on August 11, 1942. Although this earlier version of frequency-hopping could potentially help win the war, the invention was dismissed by the U.S. Navy and was never implemented during World War II.

Lamarr and Antheil's "Secret Communication System"

It was only in 1962 that Lamarr and Antheil's invention was implemented, when the U.S. military used it on naval ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis after the patent expired. This idea of frequency-hopping would later serve as the basis for modern spread-spectum communication technology, such as cell phones, fax machines, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi. Sadly, Lamarr and Antheil received little credit for their invention during their lifetime, but they were inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2014.

If you're interested in learning more about the "Secret Communication System," you can read a detailed description of the invention by clicking here.

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