Appreciation of Invention
How Military Creations Have Changed Our Lives
May 5, 2014 by Mark Dye
They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and the American military has faced a lot of needs through the years. And a few of them have had dramatic changes on the world around us.
This was created in the late 1930s as a way for the military to see in low-light situations. It became famous nearly 50 years later during the first Gulf War as news reports showed what it was like to see through night vision goggles. Since then, the technology has been used by security cameras and for low-light photography. There are even children’s versions that, while not very powerful, can still be effective (especially when trying to scare siblings).
When a German invasion of Great Britain seemed imminent in 1940, scientists sped up their search for ways to build up blood supplies to treat the wounded. Unfortunately, keeping blood fresh was all but impossible until scientists figured out to separate the needed blood plasma. And that’s just what they did. In the decades since, literally millions upon millions of people have survived otherwise fatal accidents and incidents thanks to this technology.
Duck (or is it duct?) tape
It is technically called “duck” tape because of the way water just rolled off of it—just like off a duck’s back. (Only after World War II was it called “duct” tape due to it sometimes being used to seal ductwork.) And that makes sense, as it was originally designed as a way to seal ammunition cases and keep out water. It wasn’t long, however, before service members learned what we all now know: that its incredible stickiness and strength make it well-suited for a variety of uses, some of which are pretty amazing. In fact, duct tape was so instrumental in helping the Apollo 13 mission that NASA included it on every space flight thereafter. It can also be found in any well-stocked toolbox, military or civilian.
Originally designed at the start of WWII to provide a reconnaissance platform that was quick, agile, and able to traverse nearly any terrain it came across, the Jeep is one of the most well-known vehicles in American history. The design has also been one of the most successful of any vehicle anywhere in the world: even a 21st century-era Jeep is easily identifiable as such. Sure, now they can have heated leather seats and high-end stereos, but they can still go off road. They just do it with a bit—okay, a lot—more comfort than the original model.
After WWII, a Raytheon engineer, Percy Spencer, was trying to improve radar technology by working with “magnetrons” which, to keep it non-technical, are electronic devices that produce and focus microwave energy. One day, a candy bar in his pocket melted while doing testing and he began to wonder what had happened. He was even more perplexed because the wrapper was fine. After doing more research, he determined that the microwave radiation coming from a magnetron had cooked the candy bar (though, luckily, not himself!). Thanks to this happy accident, we can make everything from popcorn to full meals in a matter of minutes.
Let’s get this out of the way: Al Gore did not invent the Internet. (He also never actually said he did.) Instead, it was created in the 1960s as a way for Department of Defense computers in different locations to share info in a way that was both reliable and secure. It was unleashed upon the general public in the early 1990s and has fundamentally changed the world as we know it. Some might even argue that it’s the American military invention that has changed the world more than any other.
When spy satellites were first being developed in the 1960s, there was a clear problem: cameras of the time used film, making it quite difficult (not to mention costly) to access any images that were taken. Enter the digital camera, which could store images electronically, making it simple to send the data back down to Earth. The cameras are now ubiquitous as standard parts of most cellphones and have created a culture in which anything and everything can (or already has) become a photo.
Created in 1973 to help nuclear warheads hit their targets with more accuracy, the global positioning system is actually a collection of satellites that work together to provide detailed information about where a GPS device is located. Once only allowed for the military, the system was classified as “dual use” by President Bill Clinton in 1996, which allowed the system to be used for civilian uses. At first, however, they featured “Selective Availability”—basically, you couldn’t pinpoint your location to the exact meter but, rather, within a certain range of meters. When that limitation was removed in 2000, the increased accuracy opened the way for a myriad of civilian uses, from cellphones to cars to scientific devices.
As the years continue, there will be even more military inventions that find their way into the civilian sector. And if the past is any indication, things won’t be the same afterward.