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Friday, April 28, 2006

The Godmother of Spread Spectrum - Hedy Lamarr

Godmother of spread SpectrumHedy looking sultry

The most beautiful girl in the world was also the inventor of spread spectrum. She was granted Patent #2,292,387 on 11th August 1942 with co-inventor George Antheil for a "Secret Communication System".

The story behind the pair and how they made the invention is detailed in the wonderbook, Spread Spectrum: Hedy Lamarr and the Mobile Phone by Rob Walters. Apart from the fascinating story of the pair, the book's great strength is that it is written by someone who clearly understands radio technology very well and explains the applications so the non-technical reader can understand it easily.

The brief story is that Hedy Lamarr was born in Austria between the World Wars, became an actress and gained notoriety as the first woman to appear nude in a film. She married an Arms dealer and entertained Adolf Hilter and Mussolini at their palatial home. She didn't like the direction that Europe was heading into (or her husband) and escaped to the USA. On the ship crossing the Atlantic, Louis B Meyer offered her a job. She starred in a few movies and immediately became famous. She met "the bad boy of music" George Antheil, who shared her hatred of the Nazi's and together they invented spread spectrum. The original application they came up with was as a guidance system for torpedo's which could not be jammed. The first application came in the 1950s with the US Navy.

The story of George Antheil is as interesting as Hedy Lamarr's. He was a talented piano player and composer who moved to Europe in between the wars and experimented with new music. His lists of acquaintances are like a who's who's of the cultural scene at the time. His piece Ballet Mécanique created riots the first time it was played in Berlin and Paris. In fact only recently with the advent of computers has the piece been able to played as originally written. It sounds absolutely terrible to me. He returned to the USA and moved to Hollywood to write music for the movies where he met Hedy.

Of course, the invention was too advanced for those mechanical times, but with the silicon of today it is implemented within CDMA, Bluetooth & WiFi technologies.

The story is so good that I'm sure one day it will be made into a movie. The majority of current Hollywood vixens would love to play someone with more than one brain cell. The ending will have to be changed: torpedos being deployed and killing her evil Arms Trading ex-husband...