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When we hear about war, the things that come to mind are pain, suffering and loss of lives. It’s hard to imagine that something as brutal as war can create anything positive. But surprisingly, throughout the history of warfare, large scale research and development have led to many post-war contributions in technology, some of which have flown into our everyday life. Let us have a look at some of the military technologies, that we use every day.
The Global Positioning System (GPS)
When you use your smartphone maps to navigate to a point, order an app based cab service, or order food, you rely on the GPS navigation technology.
A large constellation of 31 satellites constantly beam their orbital positions all over the earth like a global radio transmission. By receiving the signal from 3 or more satellites, your phone can calculate your exact position via triangulation.
Artist’s impression of a GPS satellite
GPS was originally invented for the US Air Force for navigation of aircrafts and missiles to the target. In 1996, US President Bill Clinton, made the system available for civilian use.
ENIAC (Electronic Numerical Integrator and Calculator), the first electronic computer that was capable of being programmed to serve different purposes, and it was designed for the U.S. Military, during WWII. The army paid for the computer to be built so they could use it in their Ballistic Research Laboratory.
ENIAC was designed and primarily used to calculate artillery firing ranges for the United States. ENIAC calculated a missile trajectory in 30 seconds that could take a human expert more than 20 hours.
ENIAC being programmed by engineers
The modular design of ENIAC, and its general purpose programmability, pioneered the era of modern day computers and programming.
Like many other inventions throughout history, Microwave oven was invented accidentally.
In 1945, Percy Spencer, an American engineer, was working in a lab, testing high-powered vacuum tube transmitters which emits microwave radiation to power military radars. He observed that while the equipment was on, a peanut butter chocolate bar in his shirt pocket has completely melted and created a gooey mess.
Interested by the event, he repeated the experiment with corn kernels and eggs. After the corn successfully popped and the egg exploded, Spencer tried heating more foods and found that the microwave radiation can boil foods like potatoes in a matter of minutes.
Spencer worked for several months for a method to contain the radiation within a sealed metal enclosure and thus the microwave oven was born.
Penicillin, the first antibiotic was invented by Scottish scientist Alexander Fleming in 1928. But, it was not used practically, until World War II, where it helped treat soldiers with infected wounds.
The success rate of penicillin against the wounds of the soldiers were unprecedented, and it encouraged manufacturers to start mass production of penicillin in 1940s, for all kinds of infections including STDs.
Alexander Fleming won the Nobel Prize in medicine in 1945 for his extraordinary work in the field of medicine. Penicillin started a new era of antibiotics in medical science. Antibiotics are still the primary treatment being used against infections.
The old-school fountain pens used an ink tube, which turned out to be unusable by air crew.
The Royal Air force (RAF) crew was frustrated by the ink leakage of fountain pens, during high altitude operations. The lower air pressure at high altitude caused the pens to bleed ink as the pressure inside the ink tube was higher than the high altitude atmosphere.
Hungarian Journalist and scientist brothers Laszlo and Georg Biro noticed that the ink used in newspaper print dries as soon as it comes in contact with paper.
They designed a pen which use a rolling ball at its tip instead of an ink nib. The ink cannot push the ball out of its groove even if there is a pressure difference. The ink can only come in contact with the paper when the ball rolls over the paper while writing. This eliminated the chance of ink spill.
Also, unlike a fountain pen, the ink does not need to flow to the nib using its liquid properties. So, denser, gel-like inks can be used in a ball point pen, making it more resistant to spillage.
One of the ballpoint pen’s first customers was the RAF, taking out an order of 30,000 units which made the ballpoint pens popular.
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