International Women’s Day Profile – Hedy Lamarr: Beauty and Bluetooth

March 8th is International Women’s Day. We at TaoTronics are proud to highlight Hedy Lamarr, an inspiring woman who had a great impact on the development of wireless and bluetooth technologies.

Who Is Hedy Lamarr?

Hedy Lamarr was born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler in Vienna, Austria, in 1913. By the age of ten she could speak four languages and play the piano; by 18 she had scored her first successful role in the notorious film Ecstasy.

Lamarr fled to Paris at the age of 24 to escape an unhappy marriage to a domineering munitions manufacturer. There she met Louis Mayer, of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who signed her as his next Hollywood starlet.

During the 1930s and 40s she undertook roles in movies such as Algiers, My Favourite Spy and Samson and Delilah, the highest grossing film of 1949. These helped her gain fame as the most beautiful woman in the world. Lamarr’s face was even the inspiration for Disney’s Snow White!

Hedy Lamarr, ‘the most beautiful woman in the world’, in 1944. Image: Wikimedia Commons

Was She Just A Pretty Face?

No – in fact, Lamarr stated that “Any girl can be glamorous. All she has to do is stand still and look stupid.”

Passionate about inventing, Lamarr had a mini-lab in her trailer. She even helped to streamline the design of airplanes after meeting Howard Hughes, who called her a ‘genius’.

During her marriage, Lamarr had learned much about missiles and ballistics. She put this to use in the late 1930s by teaming up with musician George Anthiel to invent a “Secret Communications System”. This system was an attempt to prevent Nazi missile attacks on non-military ships in the Atlantic.

The duo based their system on the rolls and keys of a pianola. Like the pianola’s 88 keys it involved 88 synched frequencies. Having synchronized frequencies, they theorized, prevented the missiles radio signals from jamming. This invention would mean that the accuracy and reliability of radio-guided torpedoes would be improved.

Image: USPTO

Lemarr donated the invention to the war effort shortly after their design was granted a patent in 1942.

How Does This Link to Bluetooth?

Good question!

Put simply, Lamarr and Anthiel laid the foundations of frequency hopping spread spectrum technology. Bluetooth uses this tech today to avoid interference problems.

Image: cdt21.com

As this Stanford paper explains, Bluetooth uses 79 radio frequency channels between 2400 to 2483.5 MHz and “hops” between these channels. The signal switches at a rate of 1600 hops per second, meaning it’s unlikely that that other devices (Bluetooth or not!) can interfere.

Moreover, the “hopping patterns” are random, meaning that it is hard for another device to have the exact same pattern. Your frequency becomes safer and more reliable, as Lamarr envisioned.

So Why Haven’t We Heard Much About This?

The Navy and the press largely ignored Lamarr and Anthiel’s groundbreaking invention during the war. Newspapers even wrote that “it does seem incredible that anyone as beautiful and as fragile-looking as the luscious Hedy could be so mechanically minded.”

Consequently, it took twenty years and the Cuban missile crisis for spread spectrum technology to be adopted. Lamarr and Anthiel never made money from their ideas as their patent had expired three years before their ideas were implemented.

The science and technology world finally began to acknowledge Lamarr and Anthiel’s achievements in 1997. That year, the duo won the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award, whilst Lamarr won a BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, ‘the Inventing World’s Oscar’. She was the first women to do so. This was only three years before her death at the age of 86.

So when you listen to music with your Bluetooth headphones, remember the  talented inventor Hedy Lamarr and her legacy.

Do you have a favorite female figure in the tech industry? Drop a comment below to let us know!

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