9 Military Spin-Off Technologies We Use Almost Everyday

You can thank the military for these 9 everyday things.
Christopher McFadden

"Necessity is the mother of all invention," as the adage goes. This is especially true for military technology.

But military tech has led to some interesting spin-offs that have improved our daily lives forever. Here are but a few of them. 


What military spin-off technologies do we use every day?

And so, without further ado, here are some of the most common military spin-off technologies that we use every day? This list is far from exhaustive and is in no particular order.

1. You can thank military research for digital cameras

military spin-offs digital camera

Source: Thomas Hawk/Flickr

One common everyday thing that is actually a spinoff from military technology is the digital camera. They were originally designed for aerial and space surveillance missions to capture high-resolution images of enemy assets and installations.

They were developed during the 1960s and 1970s at the height of the Cold War and would later evolve into the DSLR cameras we are all familiar with today. One of the first commercially available digital cameras was released in the 1980s and they first appear in cell phones in the early-2000s

2. GPS is another everyday military spin-off tech

military spin-offs GPS
The Magellan NAV 1000 was one of the first commercial applications of GPS in the world. Source: Retro-GPS

Another military spin-off technology is the now-ubiquitous Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. Originally developed by the U.S. military between the 1970s and 1990s, GPS was developed to help with logistics, target identification, mapping, and tracking movements of things -- to name but a few.

Originally called NAVSTAR GPS, it was first developed in the 1970s by the U.S. Department of Defence with prototype satellites launched in the late-1970s. By the mid-1990s a full constellation of over 20 GPS satellites was finally in place. 

The first commercial applications of GPS were launched in the late-1980s like the Magellan NAV 1000. Today many cars and mobile phones have built-in GPS systems. 

3. The internet is another amazing military spin-off tech

military spin-offs internet
ARPANET logical map circa 1977. Source: RockerHRO/Wikimedia Commons

Yet another everyday military spin-off technology is the internet (and by extension the World Wide Web). Originally developed in the late-1960s to the 1970s, the forerunner of the internet, called the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET) laid down the basic components of the system today.

This network, as well as TCP/IP, would become the technical backbone of the internet we use almost every moment of the day. By the mid-1990s. the internet had become fully commercialized in the United States and has changed the way we work, communicate, and share information beyond all recognition. 

4. Drones were first developed for military use

military spin-offs drones
The Parrot AR Drone as one of the first commercially available drones. Source: Nicolas Halftermeyer/Wikimedia Commons

Another everyday piece of tech that can trace its origins to military R and D are drones. Originally developed as unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), they were originally developed to provide remote surveillance and information gathering tasks in hostile parts of the world.

Interestingly, the concept of drones is not a new one. The first recorded use of UAVs is in the mid-1800s when Austrian forces released hundreds of incendiary balloons while besieging Venice. During the early-1900s early drones were also developed to provide target practice for training military personnel.

The technology was further developed during WW1 and WW2 with the U.S. Airforce starting research on uncrewed aircraft as early as the 1950s. Drones, as we think of them today, were first deployed in the 1990s with some of the earliest examples being used in the 1991 Gulf War.

Commercial drones would begin to appear in the mid- to late-2000s. 

5. Duct tape is another military spin-off tech

military spin-offs duct tape
Source: Evan-Amos/Wikimedia Commons

Duct tape is another common everyday object that started life as a military kit. This strong, durable, and highly-adhesive tape was first invented during the Second World War and consisted of a rubber-adhesive applied to a durable duck cloth backing. 

This tape was waterproof and was excellent at resisting dirt, while also being incredibly useful for repairing military equipment, vehicles, and weapons. While materials similar to duct tape were developed in the early-1900s, it would take the work of one Vesta Stoudt (an ordinance-factory worker) to develop what we think of duct tape today.

She was worried about the problems that existed with ammo box seals and suggested using an adhesive tape to solve the problem. The idea caught on, and Johnson and Johnson produced the first duct tape during WW2.

Post-war, duct tape was freely available in many hardware stores around the world. 

6. Microwave ovens also started out life as a piece of military hardware

military spin-offs microwave
A Raytheon RadaRange aboard the NS Savannah nuclear-powered cargo ship, installed circa 1961. Source: Acroterion/Wikimedia Commons

The humble microwave, or rather its cavity magnetron, is another piece of kit that was first developed for military applications. An offshoot of radar systems developed during the Second World War, the ability to produce electromagnetic waves on a tiny scale (microwaves) would prove to be pretty useful at heating up organic materials.

Percy Spencer, an American self-taught engineer who worked for Raytheon, noticed that microwaves from an active radar somehow melted a chocolate bar he had in his pocket. In October of 1945, Raytheon filed a patent for the use of microwaves to heat food, and the first commercially available unit, the "RadaRange," was released in 1947.

The rest, as they say, is history. 

7. Jet engines are another piece of technology that first started out as a military kit

military spin-offs jets
The Messerschmitt  (ME) 262 was the world's first jet-powered fighter. Source: Julian Herzog/Wikimedia Commons

Yet another spin-off from military technology that we use almost every day is the jet engine. First developed by Frank Whittle during the late 1920s, it would take the horrors of the Second World War to see the first-ever jet-powered aircraft take flight.

Whittle would file a patent for it in 1930, and a German, called Hans Von Ohain would simultaneously develop his own design (seemingly unaware of Whittle's groundbreaking work). Following the war, jet engines would largely replace propeller-engines in military aircraft, with the first commercial aircraft, like the De Havilland Comet, taking to the air in the 1950s.

8. You can thank the military for superglue too

military spin-offs superglue
Source: Omegatron/Wikimedia Commons

Superglue is yet another military tech spin-off that you probably use on a daily basis. It can trace its origins to the Second World War when scientists were attempting to find a suitable material for use as plastic gun sights.

While working on this, researchers made an accidental discovery of a substance that seemed to stick to practically anything it came in contact with -- Superglue. Technically called cyanoacrylates, it was patented in 1942 by the B. F. Goodrich Company, and was first commercially released as "Eastman #910" in the late-1950s.

9. Canned food was also developed for the army first

military spin-offs tin cans
Source: Sun Ladder/Wikimedia Commons

And finally, yet another common everyday thing that was first developed for military use is canned food. Since an army "marches on its stomach," armies have been toying with ways to keep their troops fed while on a campaign for millennia.

Back in the early-1800s, the French government under the direction of Napoleon Boneparte offered a large cash reward for anyone who would develop a way to preserve food for extended periods of time. One canny (pun intended) inventor, Nicolas Appert, discovered that cooked food inside a jar did not spoil while it remained sealed.

Now known as the "Father of Canning," his sterilization and preservation method started the process that would eventually lead to what we know as tin cans today.

message circleSHOW COMMENT (1)chevron