Special Report

19 Commercial Products Invented by the Military

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16. The internet
>Year invented: 1969

You would not be able to check the weather anywhere in the world, share funny cat videos, or even read this article without the military sinking years of work and billions of dollars into ARPANET — the forerunner for the internet. The Advanced Research Projects Agency Network began during the Cold War as a way for the U.S. military to develop an information sharing system without the need for a command center. The military was concerned any central location would be a Soviet target.

By the late 1960s, colleges were able to access the very limited trial run of ARPANET. At the time, the network users could only log onto a remote computer, print remotely, and transfer files. Decades of innovation honed the ARPANET into the World Wide Web we enjoy today.

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17. EpiPen
>Year invented: 1973

A must for anyone with severe allergies, the EpiPen was initially conceived of as a military device. Inventor Sheldon Kaplan worked at military contractor Survival Technology in Bethesda, Maryland, where he developed an autoinjector called the ComboPen. This invention was first designed to deliver a treatment to soldiers who had come into contact with a nerve agent. The ComboPen would quickly deliver the antidote into the bloodstream of the affected person.

Kaplan later tweaked this device to deliver epinephrine, which can help people who go into anaphylactic shock due to an allergic reaction. Though his name was on the patent, Kaplan received little credit for his breakthrough during his lifetime. He died in 2009 but was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame in 2016.

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18. Virtual reality
>Year invented: 1979

Virtual reality in the 21st century is often used for entertainment, like in video games. But when the technology was first developed it was serious business. Early flight simulators had mechanisms that could move and jostle prospective pilots on the ground to prepare them for what they might experience in a real cockpit, but they were not advanced enough to provide visuals to the trainees.

In 1979, the military produced the first head-mounted visual display flight simulator. Using the simulator, pilots could train and practice flying jet fighters without the risk of crashing one of the multi-million dollar planes.

Source: Courtesy of U.S. Navy

19. Liquid hydrocarbon fuel
>Year invented: 2014

Though many of the innovations brought to us by the U.S. military that we use today were created around the two World Wars, military scientists continuously innovate. A new liquid hydrocarbon fuel is one of the more recent inventions. In 2014, the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory flew a model plane that was powered by the carbon dioxide and hydrogen found in seawater.

While the Navy was looking for ways to power jets aboard ships, it was also looking to use this technology to power the ships themselves. Though this technology may be a ways out from powering Navy ships or commercial and recreational boats, that day may be getting closer. In July 2020, researchers found a way to convert carbon dioxide in the seawater into carbon monoxide, a crucial step in the process of turning seawater into fuel at an industrial scale.