These days not a lot of people really remember the name Hedy Lamarr, other than as the punchline of a running gag in the classic film Blazing Saddles. Lamarr was a gorgeous Hollywood starlet working mostly in the 1930’s and 1940’s, and while she gained fame and fortune for her work on the silver screen, it was her off camera work we should all be most thankful for.
That’s because Hedy Lamarr, kind of amazingly, is more or less the mother of Bluetooth and WiFi technology. Few people would probably anticipate that a famous, beautiful actress would also be a scientific whiz kid, but that’s exactly what she was. She came up with the technological innovation that would serve as the blueprint for WiFi technology during World War II, when she helped create the idea of “frequency hopping.”
Frequency hopping is, well, pretty much exactly what it sounds like. The frequency transmits from one point, hops to another carrier, and on to another, and so forth. Lamarr wanted create this technology for use with torpedoes, so that they could be guided without the signal ever being intercepted by the enemy. The US Navy chose not to adopt her technology until 1962, however, but the idea of frequency hopping spread spectrum was eventually used for things like cryptography. So while she didn’t really get a chance to help blow stuff up, Lamarr did help US agents act like James Bond with some cool new spy technology.
Throughout her time in the Hollywood spotlight, Lamarr was a secret engineering genius, though her inventions never really took off. Well, apart from frequency hopping spread spectrum. And we aren’t just talking about this helping the creation of WiFi, either. Wireless phones, GPS systems, and most military communications systems are based on her invention.