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Has Hedy Lamarr's invention really impacted us today?

  1. Nov 8, 2015 #1
    I'm sure you've all seen the Google Doodle of Hollywood starlet Hedy Lamarr.

    During WWII, she co-invented a method of frequency hopping.

    I've read articles stating that her invention is widely used in wireless communications today.

    But was modern frequency hopping independently developed, or were they really inspired by Lamarr's invention as those articles state?
  2. jcsd
  3. Nov 8, 2015 #2


    Staff: Mentor

    I'm sure it was. They patented a specific technique using player piano rolls to control how things hopped so that both ends would be on the same frequency.


    Their technique taught engineers a new way to look at the problem which led to even better solutions. This is ho inventions influence technology. It often hard to definitively show the influence if the idea wasn't adopted at the time.
  4. Nov 9, 2015 #3
    the problem is that these articles are vague on the connection between Lamarr and modern tech.
  5. Nov 9, 2015 #4


    Staff: Mentor

    Its clear it was an influence especially since its cited by later patents from other inventors.

    What you can never know is if an inventor independently came up with the idea in a somewhat different context say using a music box instead of a player piano roll and during a prior use search discovered Hedy's patent.

    Her idea was essentially using a device to select a frequency for broadcast and after a certain variable time switch and select a new one and sychronizing the switch between devices.

    The head of our patent review board always said: Its a good idea but like so many ideas someone thought of it before.
  6. Nov 14, 2015 #5
    But if it was her patent itself that was read by the engineers who developed the precursors to modern tech, and inspired them, then Hedy Lamarr really contributed to global advancement.
  7. Jan 17, 2016 #6
    Absolutely. Frequency hopping was the first spread spectrum technique and was a precursor to modern spread spectrum systems.
  8. Jan 19, 2016 #7
    But was it an independent discovery or did it directly follow from Lamarr's idea?
  9. Jan 19, 2016 #8


    Staff: Mentor

    You are trying to find a historical link where one may not exist. Many times inventors independently come up with ideas. However, during the filing of a patent, they discover Hedy's patent and must be sure to reference it as a basis for their patent and not to pretend like it didn't exist. They can't patent what was already invented unless everyone totally misses the connection and then its up to the courts to decide on a patent dispute.

    Another case may be that the inventor was influenced by some idea in a book that was in turn influenced by Hedy's idea. As a hypothetical example, one inventor says that Hedy's idea is too limiting constantly switching between channels and instead comes up with a more complex and costly scheme to send a message over multiple channels simultaneously. Later a young inventor looks at this complex and costly scheme and simplifies it to essentially Hedy's idea not realizing the connection.
  10. Jan 20, 2016 #9
    so does it mean that the course of technological development would not have changed an iota if Lamarr didn't publish her invention?

    young engineer independently develops frequency hopping, searches for patent and find's Lamarr's. If Lamarr didn't publish it, he wouldn't have found any patent, but the technology would be developed anyway.

    i wonder if there is a historical link where an engineer states that he was (or was not) inspired by Lamarr.
  11. Jan 20, 2016 #10


    Staff: Mentor

    The best reference I can find is in the wikipedia article on her achievement with George Anthiel


    It mentions that the technology was implemented in 1962 for naval torpedoes and later found its way into modern communications systems.

    NPR also did a story on it mentioning that the patent was filed away and classified top secret for 20 years before they decided to use it in 1962 so that means someone remembered it and pulled it out of storage.

    How it actually influenced other technology would be harder to track. However, you could find all the patents that referenced her and George's patent and see what connections they had.
  12. Jan 20, 2016 #11

    jim mcnamara

    User Avatar

    Staff: Mentor

    What do you want? Agreement with your point?
    It is perfectly clear there is ambiguity because it is history and we cannot read minds, past or present. But we do have a patent and we do have subsequent usage of the concept in the patent. It was after the patent expired. And FWIW - there were a transatlantic conferences between FDR and Churchill which used that very concept. A short time after the patent.

    Here is an article about those conversations http://www.bbc.co.uk/london/content/articles/2008/09/01/ruth_ive_feature.shtml They do not seem to mention the specturm shifting.

    I personally believe that people love counterfactual thinking - sort of rewriting history to suit something they believe. That seems to be what you are doing.

    We prefer discuss science here not rewriting history.
  13. Feb 3, 2016 #12
    No, please don't assume that I'm trying to delude myself. I really want the truth.

    But I had misread jedishrfu's comment.

    Anyway, I've realised that my question is more of a historical question than a technical one.

    Do you have any good sources on the development of modern frequency hopping?
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