Find Out How Military Tech Trickled Down To Consumer Products – Part 1


You don’t need to be Nostradamus to make predictions about consumer technology. Simply study existing military tech, and you can foresee next big things in the industry more precisely than the vague French physician and part time oracle. Don’t take my word for it. Check out how some of the most significant innovations in our daily lives started off as military experiments. Since it is quite a long list, I have decided to publish it in episodic fashion.

Microwave Oven

The first commercially available microwave oven introduced in 1947 was curiously named Radarange. That’s clearly an abbreviation of radar and range. Like an easter egg, this was a nod to how this technology was developed. Yes, however weird it may sound, but microwave oven was a result of Radar technology used for detecting enemy aircrafts during the second world war. For those uninitiated, RADAR stands for RAdio Detection And Ranging. Its application is based on a fact that radio waves are be reflected by solid objects. So, if you beam radio waves in the sky, none of these will be reflected if there’s no aircraft. Conversely, reflected radio waves confirm the presence of one or more aircrafts. During this time, Magtnetrons were used for producing radio wave. Needless to say, that these instruments were mass produced during the war. Legend has it an American engineer Percy Spencer, working for Raytheon, accidentally found out that radio waves can heat food when his candy bar melted near a live magnetron. He soon started experimenting with eggs and corn kernels. Soon, Raytheon, a military hardware contractor, introduced a kitchen appliance. However, its early model of Radarange was too bulky, almost the size of a refrigerator. In 1965 though, Raytheon acquired a home appliance brand Amana and released a first compact countertop Radarange model. With more brands entering the market, prices of microwave ovens came within the reach of American middle class. And today, it is a normal sight in city and towns of developing countries including India.

Raytheon’s Amana Radarange microwave oven from 1967 (image source).

Augmented Reality

The Augmented Reality tech in your cute mobile game Pokemon Go has a bloody history. During the second world war, Royal Air Force (RAF) planes were equipped with gyro gunsights. This rudimentary AR sight helped the British pilots shoot the Nazi Luftwaffe aircrafts with better accuracy. On the German side, similar technology was being developed by Zeiss, which now provides optics for Nokia phones. In coming years, RAF and its allies added radar information to the gunsight, which meant that the pilots no longer had to look down at the instrument panel for radar information and then scan the sky for enemies through the plane’s windscreen. In a way, it helped them keep the “head up”, which is why to this day, such instruments are called heads-up display. In the 60s, Hughes Aircraft company introduced helmet mounted displays. The system comprised of a compact CRT that reflected TV signal on an earpiece. It was first implemented by the South African Air Force. As the technology progressed, the clunky CRT tech was replaced by LCD and OLED panels. By the 70s, this technology made its way to the commercial aircrafts. In the late 80s, General Motors demonstrated it on Cutlass Supreme model. Recently, it captured the imagination of the masses after Microsoft introduced complex Augmented Reality headset HoloLens. Game developers such as Niantic made the HUD tech mainstream by introducing it on smartphones. In short, the AR tech has come a long way from fighting Nazis to capturing imaginary creatures on a phone.


The Internet

Internet, currently used for watching cat videos and posting silly selfies was originally developed by the US government to make communication between universities, research labs, and defense department convenient and secure. After the launch of Sputnik, the US President Eisenhower felt that the Soviets are winning the race for technological superiority. To counter that, he formed ARPA (Advanced Research Projects Agency), which is now known as DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). This agency built the early foundation for the Internet, known as ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network). On ARPANET, the first message, a login request was sent from the University of California to a host computer on Stanford Research Institute in 1969. It became truly International in 1973, when Norway’s NORSAR became the first network outside the US to be connected to the ARPANET followed by the University College of London. For years to come, it was only accessible to academic and military elites. Finally, in early 80s, ARPANET was split into civilian and military domains. In the next decade, the civilian network was open for commercial use, which lead to the rise of local ISPs (Internet Service Providers). In the same decade, rudimentary browsers were developed, which made things more accessible to the general public. The rest is history, as the power of Internet disrupted traditional communications systems, mainstream media, and businesses.

Team of scientists responsible for ARPANET (image credits).