9

A google search on frequency hopping gives numerous results crediting Ms. Lamarr (and George Antheil) for frequency hopping and spread spectrum technologies and further, suggests we wouldn't have WiFi or bluetooth had it not been for them.

Here is one such headline and article:

If it wasn't for Hedy Lamarr, we wouldn't have Wi-Fi

  • 5
    Could you refine the question? Is there a notable source that disputes these claims? Otherwise this is just speculation and not suited for this site. – Larian LeQuella Nov 11 '14 at 0:53
  • I thought the whole point of this site was to ask questions and the answers would cite reputable sources to dispute or confirm the claim. If I knew sources to contradict the claim what would be the point of asking the question? – CramerTV Nov 11 '14 at 18:10
  • 1
    @TracyCramer I see from your answer that there is some dispute over the headline claims. But there is a risk that the question could be closed because it doesn't look "interesting". The issue here is that most people think the answer is simple (they did invent it). Good questions quote enough to show there is a genuine controversy about the answer (i.e. "some sources dispute the headline"). Do this and your question will be as good as your answer. – matt_black Nov 11 '14 at 21:09
  • When Mr. Rhodes' book came out in 2011 I heard an interview with him and my 'skeptic sense' started buzzing. I looked into it and found the sources I cited in the answer. I wrote a review on Amazon to highlight the problem and let it go. Then yesterday (her 100th birthday) someone interviewed Mr. Rhodes again and he made the same claims. So I wanted to get the question on a reputable site so in the future journalists might find it. The only 'sources' disputing it are my review and a few Facebook comments. I think most people just accept it at face value. What would you suggest in this case? – CramerTV Nov 11 '14 at 21:31
  • @DikranMarsupial, they are incorrectly 'credited' with the invention. As I noted in the answer the technology was in use more than 20 years before their patent - it wasn't just the 'basics of the ideas'. I do not agree she invented frequency hopping technologies. I agree she invented a different way to do frequency hopping. I am an inventor of a different way to join an mobile ad-hoc wireless network (MANET). That doesn't mean I invented nor should I be 'credited' with "inventing network joining". – CramerTV Nov 12 '14 at 17:37
16

No, they did not.

Frequency hopping was not only known but was in use decades before Ms. Lamarr and Mr. Antheil came up with a different way to do it. Though they were rightly given a patent for an interesting way to do frequency hopping they most certainly were not its inventors. The technologies we use today would be here just as they are now had the inventors never been born.

Jonathan Zenneck's book Wireless Telegraphy (German, 1908, English translation McGraw Hill, 1915) is one of the first public documents mentioning frequency hopping - a full 34 years before Lamarr and Antheil's patent. And it has been written that Germany was using this technology in 1918 against the British (see the EE Times article referenced below.)

Patent #US1869659 describes a frequency hopping invention submitted by Willem Broertjes in 1929 and issued in 1932 (a decade before Lamarr and Antheil's).

Patent #US723188 by none other than Nikolai Tesla in 1903 does not use the phrase "frequency hopping" though it describes changing wireless frequencies to avoid interception.

Lastly, here is an article from EE Times noting their accomplishment but demonstrating they did not invent the technology: A short history of spread spectrum says,

Nikola Tesla, the prolific Serbian-American inventor and radio pioneer, filed a U.S. patent, granted on March 17, 1903 which doesn’t mention the phrase “frequency hopping” directly, but certainly alludes to it.

Such an interesting idea didn’t escape the military’s attention of course, and by 1915, the Germans were making use of primitive frequency hopping radio to stop the British eavesdropping on their conversations.

Lamarr, together with co-inventor George Antheil, a pianist and Hollywood composer, came up with a system for radio control of torpedoes. The idea was not new, but Lamarr’s concept of frequency hopping to prevent the intended target from jamming the controller’s transmissions was.

While the concept of frequency hopping is used in spread spectrum communications there is no evidence either inventor had a role in SIGSALY or any other spread spectrum project.

Their patent #US2202387 does not discuss spread spectrum in any way.

Edit: Personally, my first exposure to frequency hopping was the RT-1209 military HF radio in 1988. It used frequency hopping to prevent detection, interception, and resistance to jamming. It used a preset set of frequencies to 'hop' between. This sequence was determined using a 'time of day' word that was programmed into the radios wishing to communicate.

WiFi on the other hand did not come into existence until 1998 - more than a decade after the military radio had already been fielded.

Lastly, this is not to diminish Ms. Lamarr - she did much to be proud of and it should be acknowledged. Instead this is meant to diminish the erroneous claims made by others.

3

She certainly played a role, see

D Kahn, "Cryptology and the origins of spread spectrum: Engineers during World War II developed an unbreakable scrambler to guarantee secure communications between Allied leaders; actress Hedy Lamarr played a role in the technology", Spectrum, IEEE, Volume:21, Issue 9, pages 70 - 80, doi 10.1109/MSPEC.1984.6370466

abstract: The author describes the development of the scrambler called SIGSALY during World War II that was used for conversations between Churchill and Roosevelt and provides an early example of spread-spectrum communication.

They were granted a patent on the frequency hopping idea (2,292,387). I don't think it is really true to say that we wouldn't have WiFi or bluetooth without their invention though, which was IIRC intended to prevent jamming of radio guided torpedos by varying the frequency of the signal in a pseudorandom way. The frequency hopping used in cellphones etc switches between frequencies, but that is about the only real similarity.

There is lots of material on this, google for "Lamarr patent"; the Wikipedia entry explains it quite well.

I suspect that many of the engineers that developed WiFi may well have heard about frequency hopping from wartime propaganda stories about Lamarr's invention, rather than from reading Tesla's patent.

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .