Tech That Came From The Military And You Might Not Even Realize It

Today is Memorial Day. Yes, it seems hard to believe since it may seem like just yesterday that we were gearing up for St. Patrick’s Day only to be locked down due to COVID-19. That lockdown has made our tech all the more valuable to us. Have you ever wondered how some of that tech has been developed for military use first? 

There are quite a few even non-tech products that you use everyday. Things like duct tape, undershirts, super glue, aerosol bug spray, synthetic rubber, the microwave, juice concentrate and even the tampon were developed for use for the US military. But, that’s not really the technology we are talking about.

So, what was?

The Internet

This one is perhaps the most obvious. In 1969 the Department of Defense developed the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, otherwise known as ARPANET. It was intended as a way for various US agencies to share information without the need for a central command center. During the Cold War there was a very real chance of a nuclear attack from the Soviet Union and ARPANET it was hoped would allow for the military to continue functioning even if the Pentagon was hit. 

ARPANET allowed users to log in from a remote location, access files, print those files and transfer files. While there were no cat videos, that is the basic function of the Internet. 

Virtual Reality

Training soldiers is expensive. Getting a pilot into an airplane costs a lot of money in both fuel and maintenance and training soldiers on new weapons or new soldiers on old weapons requires a lot of bullets. If only there was an easier way to train a submariner on the basics of operating a submarine without actually taking them out into the ocean on that submarine. There is!

The military developed virtual reality in 1979 as a flight simulator to help train pilots without putting either the trainee or the multi-million dollar aircraft in danger. It seemed like a good idea and it was. Virtual reality has expanded into other branches of the military and has made its way into the public’s hands.


We have all come to rely on GPS in one way or another and for some of us, a bit too much. Knowing where you are on the planet is good to know and it is especially important for, you guessed it, the military. In 1960 satellites were placed in orbit which allowed a user to determine their location based on trilateration. While the system did not become fully operational until 1994 the public was already aware of it and it was already in civilian hands thanks to an incident with a Korean Airlines plane that strayed off course and was shot down by the Soviet Union in 1983

GPS saw its military baptism of fire during the Gulf War as American forces used it to navigate and target Iraqi forces with an accuracy that had never been seen before. It played a large role in ending the conflict with very little loss of American life. 


While you may not own a drone, you do know someone who has one (as long as you know Nicely Done Sites founder David Brooks). Drones have become available for everyone to purchase commercially and have helped to make our lives a bit easier (and cooler). Drones of course saw their first use with the military.

Unmanned aerial vehicles were first used by the Germans during World War 2 to try to bring destruction on England but the development of drones came mostly with the US military. At first they were developed for a number of reasons including target practice. As technology has expanded for use with reconnaissance and they have even been equipped with weapons as well.

Weather Radar

Of course you know that radar was developed for military use. The actual technology was developed by the British military anticipating war with Germany so they could spot German planes crossing the English Channel. Do you know what is also helpful to know? The weather.

Just like with GPS, you can get weather information on your smartphone today. It was found during World War 2 that weather could inhibit radar. The technology would get small echoes on it and radar operators wondered just what these extra blips were. It turned out it was rain. That was actually known, the man who invented radar Sir Robert Watson-Watt had developed a method to track thunderstorms before developing what we know as radar. 

Actual weather radar devices were not created until 1947 and the first was installed in Washington DC. This one as well as the second one installed in Wichita, Kansas were used to help aircraft land during thunderstorms but it was actually hurricanes that drove the development of these systems following two devastating Atlantic hurricane seasons in the 1950s. Today over 150 radar systems have been installed for weather throughout the country.

Digital Camera

If you are over the age of 30 you probably have had to use a camera with film in it. That film was susceptible to all kinds of things and had to be developed precisely. It if wasn’t, valuable military information could be lost. With the development of military spy satellites where film might not be the best way to retrieve images, a method of storing imagery was needed. Some satellites did have the ability to return film in a canister back to Earth which would be snatched up by Air Force crews somewhere in the Pacific Ocean but that was hardly efficient. Enter, the digital camera. Spy satellites basically turned into giant digital cameras and these satellites were (and still are good) offering better resolution than the satellites used for Google Earth.

Primitive digital cameras were developed in the 1970s. The first operational prototype for civilian use was developed by Nikon in 1986 with Fujifilm introducing the first working model in 1988. By 1999 a digital camera could be found in a cellphone and now, that is standard on even the cheapest phones available.

The Computer

We’ve been over this before if you are an avid reader of the Nicely Done Sites’ blog but in a nutshell computers were developed for military use. The Germans developed a computer system to aid in gunnery on their naval vessels and the British military developed computers to aid in codebreaking. Computer use following the war was mostly for military and government use until the personal computer was developed in the 1970s. 

The Walkie-Talkie

How to communicate over a long distance on a battlefield has been an issue since humans have been fighting each other. There have been all kinds of efforts, like drums or flags, but in the din of battle there was no guarantee that the right people would see them. And those did not allow a senior commander to exercise the command and control necessary or get situation reports in large battles.

Wired communication devices were in use as early as the Civil War but in World War 2 the military went truly wireless. Developed in 1940 as a backpack version with a handheld-only device in 1941, wireless handsets were given to American soldiers and became known as walkie-talkies. You could walk and talk with them you see. Only one hand was necessary to use the device, at least for the one talking as a backpack was still needed . They could be used to give orders, make reports, aid in artillery strikes, or coordinate air strikes. 

This most basic function of instantaneous communication is the fundamental job of our smartphone. Wireless handsets are commonly available for use on the job site, vacation and many other places. Many of us today remember using them as kids while playing with our friends.

It is exciting to think what will become available next and what the military might be keeping a secret from the general population.

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