10 military innovations that transformed our lives

With the AOC Europe electronic warfare and cyber security conference taking place in Liverpool this week, LBN has highlighted some of the military innovations that have changed our lives. Kirsten Hawkins reports

ACC Liverpool, police
Heightened security at ACC Liverpool for the AOC Europe event. Picture by Activate Digital

 

A three-day conference focusing on electronic warfare and cyber security has got under way at ACC Liverpool this week.

Despite public protests against the AOC Europe event, and objections from high profile political figures including Liverpool Mayor Joanne Anderson and former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, the event is going ahead amid heightened security at the waterfront venue.

AOC Europe is an annual conference that will welcome delegates from 40 countries. Its stated aim is to “share information, ideas and technological advances to allow the development of sophisticated systems used solely to make the world a safer place”.

Managed by Clarion Defence and Security, the event comes to Liverpool having previously been held in London, Rome and Stockholm. Among its attendees will be representatives from the government, defence, industry and academic sectors. They will hear addresses from world-renowned cyber defence experts.

We often think of digital and technical innovation as something that mainly sits in the civilian and commercial arenas but there is a long history of innovations in the military sphere that have had a profound impact on all of our lives. Here are just 10 of them:

1 The Internet

Arguably the most important invention of our time, the internet defines the information age. It’s the foundation for all the tools we rely on for work, leisure, travel, communication and using household appliances. Without it you wouldn’t even be reading this article.

While computers had been around for a while, the cold war precipitated the creation of ARPANET, funded by the US Department of Defence in the 1960s. This could send messages between computers from laboratories on different sites.

Laptop, computer, work, remote, home working, freelance, woman
The origins of the internet came from a US defence project in the 1960s

 

2 Wristwatch

The wristwatch is more of a fashion accessory today, with most of us relying on our mobile phones to check the time. However, this humble gadget began life on the battlefields helping soldiers to synchronise their attacks a long time before they could check their phones.

3 Superglue

Invented by accident when scientists were tasked with finding a way to make clear plastic gun sites for weapons, superglue was released into the world in 1958. The military never wanted it, but their loss is a gain for civilisation.

4 GPS

Thanks to aviation and the space race, scientists found ways to launch satellites into the atmosphere. This technology has had many uses, among them, detecting military targets and locating soldiers. Now it means we never have to memorise directions ever again.

5 Tinned food

Imagine life where you had to make your own baked beans? Transporting and preserving food for soldiers posed a logistical nightmare during wartime, so in 1810, the French government incentivised inventors to come up with a solution.

The result was a jar with a sturdy seal. This design was later improved and now we have tin cans that can keep food edible indefinitely.

Tinned food was developed to help feed French soldiers

 

6 Sanitary towels

Sanitary towels started off as dressings for soldiers’ wounds before they were a handbag must-have. US President Benjamin Franklin gave us the original concept, which was later improved in World War I when nurses discovered that cellulose was more absorbent than cloth, leading to the first Kotex sanitary pad.

7 Epipen

A lifesaving device for allergy sufferers worldwide, the Epipen first came into being thanks to an auto-injection invented for soldiers exposed to nerve agents. They made it easier to administer the medication quickly and without a medical professional.

8 Mass production of penicillin

Antibiotics are a common prescription item from most GPs nowadays, but before Alexander Fleming’s discovery in 1928, people had to rely on their immune systems to fight dangerous infections.

A cut on the battlefield might have had deadly consequences, so during World War II, the US manufactured it as a priority for soldiers before it was later rolled out to the mass population.

soldiers, military, second world war, world war II
Penicillin was mass-produced for soldiers in World War II

 

9 Digital cameras

Our mobile phones are a repository of military apparatus. The digital camera is a gadget we use daily and yet its first iteration used satellites to home in on and photograph enemy territories from up above. Quite a difference from making cat videos.

10 Microwave ovens

Besides furnishing our cupboards with a great variety of tinned food, we can also thank military innovation for another form of convenience food – namely the microwave meal. Microwaves are adapted from radar technology, using miniature electromagnetic waves that heat food up quickly and effortlessly.

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