The defence force has long been a big employer of engineers and an investor in new tech – and their innovations often find a second life in the civilian world
1. The Internet
The internet is so entrenched in everything we do it’s hard to imagine it being ‘invented’. While it’s contentious whether any one person or organisation can be credited with inventing the internet as we know it, it’s generally accepted that a communications network developed by engineers and computer scientists in the US military in the late 1960s called ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) was a key technical foundation for what went on to become the World Wide Web.
Today, we mostly think of GPS as helpful for finding our way around unfamiliar streets and suburbs, or the funny voice in our phone mispronouncing place names. But ‘Global Positioning System’ technology has much more serious origins – GPS was developed by the US Department of Defence during the Cold War in the 1960s and was originally used by the navy to navigate ships and to pinpoint enemy ships and submarines in the ocean. The technology is often credited to American electrical engineer Ivan Getting.
3. The Black Box Flight Recorder
Australian research scientist David Warren invented the ‘black box’ flight recorder in 1953, while working at the Aeronautical Research Laboratories (ARL) of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation in Melbourne. David – who lost his own father in a plane crash in 1934 – had been investigating aircraft incidents when he conceived the idea for a device that would record flight data for subsequent crash investigations. Australia was the first country to make the virtually indestructible ‘black boxes’ (which are actually bright orange!) compulsory on all aircraft.
Drones (or UAVs, unmanned aerial vehicles) have their origins in defence-force applications and still have a strong association with the military, but today they’re well and truly infiltrated in everyday life. Drones are used for peaceful purposes in everything from filming and photography to shipping and delivery, and even in modern agriculture and conservation science.
5. Duct Tape
The famously useful duct tape was not invented by a military engineer as such, but it does have origins in war. Duct tape was the brainchild of Vesta Stoudt who, in 1943, had two sons serving in the US navy. Vesta – would have made a great engineer – was working in an ordnance plant during World War II when she saw a flaw in the ammo packaging and suggested sealing the boxes with a waterproof cloth tape. The War Production Board got onto it and the resulting product was the first version of duct tape – which is now used by not only the military, but everyone. All the time!
Author: Gemma Chilton
Gemma has a degree in journalism from the University of Technology, Sydney and spent a semester studying environmental journalism in Denmark. She has been writing about science and engineering for over a decade.