10 pieces of military technology that changed the way the civilian world works
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Being able to locate yourself anywhere in the world isn’t half as important as your need for instant communication. Cellular networks are one more thing you can thank the military for. In 1985 the US Army started researching a technology called Mobile Subscriber Equipment, which forms the basis of modern cellular technology.
MSE used signal towers deployed on the backs of Humvees to deliver service to mobile units mounted on other trucks. The signal towers acted just like modern cell towers, allowing forward operating soldiers to have communication as long as they were in network. Signal would jump from tower to tower, just like the modern cellphone.
The tech was first tested in Desert Storm in early 1991, and has since evolved into the always-on networks we use today.
We tend to think of propeller-driven aircraft like the Mustang when we think of World War II dogfighting, but jet engines actually came into military use in 1944. The first jet-powered military aircraft was Nazi Germany’s Messerschmitt Me 262. The allied forces introduced jet fighters in 1944 as well, but the first jet-to-jet dogfight didn’t happen until 1950.
Commercial jet aircraft started flying in 1952, and the world of business wouldn’t be the same without them.
In 1976 the US government launched the first KH-11 spy satellite. Derivatives of it are still in use to this day, and the original sported a digital camera system that could relay images back to its controllers in real time.
The camera used electro-optical sensors to capture images, just like modern digital photography. While civilian developments in digital photography were happening around the same time the KH-11 was the first practical use of a non-film camera outside of a research lab.
General use computers
The ENIAC was the first electronic programmable computer built in the US, and was one of the first general purpose computers in the world. It was designed to calculate missile trajectories, but ended up being used for several other projects, including studying how feasible the use of thermonuclear weapons would be.
Today’s computers are leaps and bounds ahead of the ENIAC of 1946, but there’s a little bit of its history right in your pocket, on your desk, and in your bookbag.
Where would the modern office be without the microwave? Workers everywhere would be heating food on stoves, creating far worse messes in the break room than they are now. We simply couldn’t have that, making the microwave one of the most valuable inventions in the history of the modern work world–and it was discovered completely by accident.
In 1945 a radar engineer employed by Raytheon was testing a system that made use of the new cavity magnetron the military had ordered for production as part of their short-wave radar. The engineer noticed that a candy bar in his pocket melted on exposure to the radar field, so he tested it with other foods. Soon Raytheon was patenting microwave cooking and rolling out test units to Boston-area restaurants.
World War II radar systems gave us more than just the ability to cook food in a flash: they also gave us modern weather radars.
Radar operators and engineers noticed that snow, rain, and other weather conditions wreaked havoc on their ability to get clear radar readings. David Atlas, an Army Air Corps radar engineer, worked on precipitation echoes on military radars during the war, and later took his findings into the civilian world to develop weather radar.
What we know as modern duct tape started off as the brainchild of a World War II ordnance factory worker. She had the idea to seal ammo containers with waterproof tape so that they could be opened faster, so the military requested the creation of the ideal hand-tearable product.
Johnson and Johnson created a tape made out of cotton duck which was waterproofed with plastic and made sticky with a rubber-based adhesive. The military found countless uses for it, such as repairing equipment, weapons, and vehicles.
After the war it quickly migrated to the civilian world, and now people everywhere use it to quick-fix problems.