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Hedy Lamarr and Frequency Hopping

April 7, 2013

The national radio broadcaster here in Ireland, RTE, has a series called Drama On One which is just beginning the What Is Life season of plays inspired the world of science.  It seems the season marks the 70th anniversary, this year, of the ‘What Is Life” lecture series in Dublin by Erwin Schrödinger, physicist and Nobel Laureate. Together with Tim Forde from CTVR, I have been involved in first of the plays which is to go out on air on the 7th of April –  What Next for Hedy Lamarr by Joe O’Byrne ( podcast at\dramaonone).

When I say involved, I of course do not mean in a starring role.  A companion piece has been created for the play in which Tim and I discuss Frequency Hopping and other radio related things.

I had always known that Hedy Lamarr was involved in the invention of  Frequency Hopping but I think did not realise until I looked into it a bit further how brilliant she really was. She seemed to really get that a mix of art and technology and working across the boundaries of different disciplines offers great possibilities.  It was together with Georg Antheil that she patented her idea. He was an avant-garde composer. They both worked at creating a radio system for  guiding torpedoes that could not be jammed by the enemy – a secret communication system – as it is entitled in the patent. They seem to have worked through their ideas and come to solutions through their understanding of music and the mechanics of systems such as the pianola. The story goes that the patent was not taken up and that spread spectrum was `rediscovered’ by a company called Sylvania at a later stage. However it is a remarkable story and a remarkable invention.

I am including here a diagram I cam across some time ago by Suresh Goyal and Rich Howard from Bell Labs which I always felt did a great job at explaining a CDMA variant of spread spectrum. The frequency hopping variant is very much self-explanatory.


One Comment
  1. Very nice! The picture is really illuminating

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