The Real Story of the Development of Bluetooth Technology

Dr. Traynor published this innovative Discussion of the beginnings of Bluetooth technology at Hearing Health and Technology Matters, as a three part series January 17, 24, & 31, 2012.  This paper is an update of that discussion.

To get started ….. let’s begin by defining Bluetooth Technology ….. Bluetooth technology is a short-range wireless communications technology that replaces the cables connecting electronic devices, allowing a person to have a phone conversation via a headset, use a wireless mouse and synchronize information from a mobile phone to a PC, all using the same core system.  In Audiology we currently use it to connect hearing aids to smart phones and televisions, while in the future the possibilities are unlimited, bringing the hearing impaired into a whole new world of connections.

The Beginning of Bluetooth

Even the best-informed American Audiologist has not heard of Younger Futhark, nor why Bluetooth Technology is named Bluetooth Technology.

Believe it or not…..the story begins with a discussion of Danish history, as that is where the name for this fabulous, life changing technology begins.  Bluetooth’s ancestry begins in the era when the Vikings ruled Scandinavia as well as many other areas of the known and unknown world and…. Younger Futhark.  Viking Grune (2012) describes Younger Futhark not as a king or a Viking warrior, but as a language that was taught only to elite and connected individuals.  The language still exists in some parts of Scandinavia and was very visible in old Viking Age settlements across Scandinavia, where it was written on some 6,000 stones called “Runestones.”  Only about 350 inscriptions have survived the test of time.  Some of these inscriptions were very historic and extremely formal, while others were simply casual notes.  One of the most important of the Runestones is still located in a church in Jelling, Denmark.  A major population center and the seat of government during the Viking era, Jelling is now a small city in the east of Jutland ( the Danish peninsula).  According to Viking Grune (2012), the larger of the Jelling stones is the biggest and most magnificent runic stone in Scandinavia and since it is inscribed with Christian symbols, figures of Christ, and many runic letters, it is often referred to as “Denmarks’s Birth Certificate.”

The Jelling runic stones are located on the south side of the Jelling Church.  According to Frank (2003), the church, the mounds, and the runic stones all date back to the 10th century and are treasured historic symbols of the founding of Denmark and the Danish Monarchy.  The Jelling Stone was erected for King Gorm the Old and his Queen Thyra in 965 by their son Harald Blåtand (Harald I of Denmark).  Gorm began an unbroken line of descent leading to today’s Danish monarch, Queen Margrethe II, which makes the Danish Royal family the world’s oldest.  Frank (2003) further states that the current church building is not the original wooden structure.  It burned to the ground, as did two other successor wooden churches over the years.  This prompted a change in the main building material to stone.  The grave of King Gorm the Old is also inside the church, beneath a sterling silver “Z” in the black granite floor.  In addition to the runic stone, the original church and the nearby mounds were erected by Harald Blåtand.

The King

Nationalmuseet(2012) states that most of what historians know about Harold is from the runestones in Jelling, Denmark; where Harald I not only erected monuments to his father and mother, but he also gave some insight into himself with a special stone, depicted at right.  He lived from about 935 to 985.  Beckman and Hirsch (2004) write that Harald Blåtand or Harald I was a great communicator who used these skills to unite the various Danish tribes of Denmark into a single kingdom, which also controlled Norway.  Ericsson (2012) indicates that Harold was an unusual Viking, that is if your concept of Vikings is battles and pillage.  He was a good king, who brought Christianity to Scandinavia.  Most of the writings say that he was a builder of bridges, ring forts, monuments and other structures.

Blåtand means dark, and it’s believed that he got his name from his very dark hair, which was unusual for a Viking.  A more popular (but less likely) reason, was that Legends have it that Harald was fond of blueberries so much so that his teeth became stained, leaving him with a rather unique set of blue molars.  Others say that the name Bluetooth had nothing do to with blue or teeth.   There is also some discussion about if blueberries were even available in Denmark in the 10th century and thus the consensus seems to be that these were bilberries (left), which would also stain teeth with a blue color.  Deeper research (mostly message boards and scuttlebutt) suggests that Harald may have had a damaged or rotten tooth that had turned black since in the old languages the same word was used for black and blue.  Others, such as Ericsson (2012), write that Blåtand just means “dark complexion” in the Viking language of Younger Futhark and was simply a comment on his very dark hair.  So, his name could have meant dark hair or dark teeth, but he goes down in history as Harald I – Bluetooth and is famous in Danish history for uniting Scandinavia.  No matter the color of his teeth or how they got that way, he was not the typical Viking ruler.  He was forced into Christianity by the German King Otto I after losing a battle to the Germans, and he was baptized by Poppa, a monk, sometime in the 960s.  Since then he ruled as a Christian and most references found him to be fair and kind.  Harald I – Bluetooth died in 985- or 986.

Now, fast forward about 500 years to the 1940s…

So far in this story we have focused upon the Vikings, Harald I – Bluetooth of Denmark, and the runestones of Jelling, Denmark, where the Vikings wrote their history in the language of Younger Futhark.  An unlikely individual to be involved in this story is the 1940s was actress, Hedy Lamarr.  According to Platt (2011), Ms. Lamarr’s greatest long-term contribution to society was not as an actress but as an inventor.  Believe it or not, she was an inventor, and among her inventions was basic radio frequency technology.  She and the composer George Antheil co-invented and defined the early techniques for spread-spectrum communications and frequency-hopping technologies that were used in military communication for decades and which are now found in today’s most popular wireless Bluetooth devices.

The sinking of a cruise ship in 1940 by Nazi U-boats inspired the Austrian-born actress to action.  Martin (2011) states that when German submarines began targeting passenger cruise liners, she felt compelled to do something to help the Allied cause.  She zeroed in on torpedoes, which were powerful weapons but hard to control.  Rhodes (2011) says that she thought if they could be radio-guided, they would be more likely to hit their target.  He writes, “She understood that the problem with radio signals was that they could be jammed.  But she reasoned if the signal could hop around more or less randomly from frequency to frequency, the person trying to jam it wouldn’t know where to find it.”  Hence, says Rhodes, “If they try to jam one particular frequency, it might hit that frequency on one of its hops, but it would only be there for a fraction of a second.”  Thus, was her take on “spread-spectrum radio” and a new technology was born.

Lamarr and George Antheil submitted their idea to the National Inventors Council and received a patent for their “Secret Communication System” in 1942.  They were anxious to share their invention with the U.S Navy but got a lackluster response.  Rhodes reports that the Navy basically threw their patent into the file and didn’t even consider doing anything with it until the late 1980s.  Basically it was too sophisticated for those that reviewed it.  Thus, Lamarr’s contribution to the War effort was “lost in the noise” for decades.

Now, fast forward to the 1990s…

In the 1990s, Hedy Lamarr was in her early 80s, when one of the pioneers of wireless communications for computers came across her patent.  The patent and the concept behind it were so ingenious that she was belatedly honored for her invention.  Based upon her invention, Microsoft, Ericsson, IBM, Intel, Agere, Motorola, Nokia, and Toshiba, plus thousands of associates and adopter’s member companies began a special interest group (SIG) in 1998 to develop wireless technology utilizing the radio frequency concept to replace RS 232 connection cables.

The developers of the technology within the SIG first began to use the name “Bluetooth” as a code while the technology was in the development process.  Over time, the name stuck.  It was taken from the 10th century Danish King Harald Blåtand or Bluetooth.  As discussed earlier, King Bluetooth was very influential in uniting Scandinavia during an era when the region was torn apart by wars and feuding clans.  Therefore, the code name seemed fitting for a connective device that brings together products.  According to (2011), the founders of the Bluetooth SIG chose the name because:

1) Bluetooth technology was first developed [refined from Hedy Lamarr’s invention] in Scandinavia, and

2) Bluetooth technology can unite differing industries, such as the cell phone, computing, and automotive markets.  Bluetooth wireless technology simplifies and combines multiple forms of wireless communication into a single, secure, low-power, low-cost, globally available radio frequency.

Audiologists began to see Bluetooth technology enter the field in 2006 when it was first used in hearing instruments.  These products now allow patients to connect to their cell phone, television, and other Bluetooth-capable devices.  Thanks to the hard work of the Bluetooth special interest group, the inventive genius of a glamorous American actress, and the extremely capable engineers designing today’s hearing instruments, we now have a connection modality for hearing-impaired people that offers true benefit and increased value to amplification products.

It was a Scandinavian firm that originally designed the Bluetooth logo at about the same time the SIG was formally introduced to the public.  Keeping to the same origin as the Bluetooth name, the logo combines the Runic alphabetic characters H and B, the initials for Harald Bluetooth.  Just as the Bluetooth King united Scandinavia, so does the technology that bears his name unite devices that can be used together.  If you look closely enough at the logo, you can see both letters of the ancient alphabet embodied within it.  These Runic letters are part of the Younger Futhark Viking language, and…..

What of Hedy Lamarr’s contribution?

Famous Women Inventors (2006) summarized Ms. Lamarr’s inventing exploits as follows:

“Although better known for her Silver Screen exploits, Austrian actress Hedy Lamarr (born Hedwig Eva Maria Kiesler) also became a pioneer in the field of wireless communications following her emigration to the United States. The international beauty icon, along with co-inventor George Anthiel, developed a “Secret Communications System” to help combat the Nazis in World War II. By manipulating radio frequencies at irregular intervals between transmission and reception, the invention formed an unbreakable code to prevent classified messages from being intercepted by enemy personnel.

Lamarr and Anthiel received a patent in 1941, but the enormous significance of their invention was not realized until decades later. It was first implemented on naval ships during the Cuban Missile Crisis and subsequently emerged in numerous military applications. But most importantly, the “spread spectrum” technology that Lamarr helped to invent would galvanize the digital communications boom, forming the technical backbone that makes cellular phones, fax machines and other wireless operations possible.

As is the case with many of the famous women inventors, Lamarr received very little recognition of her innovative talent at the time, but recently she has been showered with praise for her groundbreaking invention. In 1997, she and George Anthiel were honored with the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) Pioneer Award. And later in the same year, Lamarr became the first female recipient of the BULBIE™ Gnass Spirit of Achievement Award, a prestigious lifetime accomplishment prize for inventors that is dubbed “The Oscar™ of Inventing.”

Proving she was much more than just another pretty face, Lamarr shattered stereotypes and earned a place among the 20th century’s most important women inventors. She truly was a visionary whose technological acumen was far ahead of its time.”

As for Ms. Lamar’s comments when the committee called her in 1997 to inform her of the honor………… “Well, It’s About Time!


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