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"In 1970 I found little difficulty staying 30 years ahead of the man in the street, and now I find it difficult to stay 18 months ahead of the man on the street."
- Vernor Vinge

Actinoscope  
  A device that used a pulsating polarized ether wave to judge the distance to an object (a RADAR)  

This is a very clear reference to radar, which uses electromagnetic radiation to determine how far away an object is (or to detect an object in the first place). RADAR is an acronym for RAdio Detection And Ranging.

A pulsating polarized ether wave, if directed on a metal object can be reflected in the same manner as a light ray is reflected from a bright surface… By manipulating the entire apparatus like a searchlight, waves would be sent over a large area. Sooner or later these waves would strike a space flyer. A small part of these waves would strike the metal body of the flyer, and these rays would be reflected back to the sending apparatus. Here they would fall on the Actinoscope, which records only the reflected waves, not direct ones.

…From the intensity and elapsed time of the reflected impulses, the distance between the earth and the flyer can then be accurately estimated.

From Ralph 124c 41 +, by Hugo Gernsback.
Published by Modern Electrics in 1911
Additional resources -

Many science fiction fans believe that Hugo Gernsback came up with the idea for radar. From the standpoint of the history of ideas, this is probably not true; however, Gernsback had an engineering background and may have conceived of the idea independently.

In the late 1880’s Henrich Hertz demonstrated that electromagnetic waves existed; they could be generated and observed. He also found that these “radio” waves traveled through some objects and were reflected by others.

I found several references to the possibility that Hertz actually developed a system to measure the distance between himself and an object that reflects radio waves, and that this was demonstrated to the German navy (without much interest) in the mid 1890's.

The basic effects of radar detection were known to the US Naval Research Laboratory in the early 1920’s. The first practical radar equipment was created in 1935 by British physicist Sir Robert Watson-Watt; England had established a chain of radar stations along its south and east coasts to detect planes by 1939.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Ralph 124c 41 +
  More Ideas and Technology by Hugo Gernsback
  Tech news articles related to Ralph 124c 41 +
  Tech news articles related to works by Hugo Gernsback

Actinoscope-related news articles:
  - AESA Radars Used As 'Death Ray' Weapons?

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