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9 Things Invented For Military Use That You Now Encounter In Everyday Life

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A surprising number of military inventions have found their ways into our civilian lives. Here are just a few military-turned-everyday items.

1. GPS


When you rely on the GPS app on that Android phone to keep yourself from getting lost, you’re using the same Global Positioning System satellites set up by the U.S. Department of Defense in the early 1990s. At President Clinton’s behest, the system became available to civilian users in 1996.

2. Freeze drying

Dippin’ Dots, anyone? The technology that’s now used to make freeze-dried ice cream was first used widely during World War II as a way of preserving medical supplies that otherwise required refrigeration.

3. EpiPen

EpiPens, the auto-injecting syringes that allow you to give yourself a quick shot of epinephrine to stave off an allergic reaction, sprung from a similar device designed to protect soldiers from nerve agents and chemical weapons.

4. Cargo pants

British soldiers began sporting cargo pants in the 1930s because they offered a convenient way to carry vital military gear like ammunition. American troops adopted them just a few years later, and the general public began to wear them in the 1990s.

5. Duct tape


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In 1942, duct tape was invented for the military as a way to seal ammunition cases so that water couldn’t get in. Soldiers during WWII quickly realized that it worked well for fixing army gear, too.

6. Jerrycan

You know those canisters you use in order to get gasoline to put in your lawnmower? They were initially developed for the German military in the 1930s.

7. Jeep

The Jeep has come a long way since it was first manufactured for American troops to use on reconnaissance missions in WWII. Now celebrating its 70th anniversary, some new models of the world’s oldest SUV come equipped with luxuries such as leather-wrapped steering wheels, DVD players, and touchscreen media consoles.

8. Computers

ENIAC, the first electronic computer that was capable of being programmed to serve many different purposes, was designed for the U.S. military during WWII. The army paid for the computer to be built so they could use it in their Ballistic Research Laboratory.

9. Microwave


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In 1945, an American scientist realized accidentally that the radar transmitters used by the U.S. Army throughout WWII actually released enough heat—in the form of “microwaves”—that they could cook food. This technology was used to construct the first microwave oven within the next 2 years.

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11-Year-Old Creates a Better Way to Test for Lead in Water
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In the wake of the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, a Colorado middle schooler has invented a better way to test lead levels in water, as The Cut reports.

Gitanjali Rao, an 11-year-old seventh grader in Lone Tree, Colorado just won the 2017 Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge, taking home $25,000 for the water-quality testing device she invented, called Tethys.

Rao was inspired to create the device after watching Flint's water crisis unfold over the last few years. In 2014, after the city of Flint cut costs by switching water sources used for its tap water and failed to treat it properly, lead levels in the city's water skyrocketed. By 2015, researchers testing the water found that 40 percent of homes in the city had elevated lead levels in their water, and recommended the state declare Flint's water unsafe for drinking or cooking. In December of that year, the city declared a state of emergency. Researchers have found that the lead-poisoned water resulted in a "horrifyingly large" impact on fetal death rates as well as leading to a Legionnaires' disease outbreak that killed 12 people.

A close-up of the Tethys device

Rao's parents are engineers, and she watched them as they tried to test the lead in their own house, experiencing firsthand how complicated it could be. She spotted news of a cutting-edge technology for detecting hazardous substances on MIT's engineering department website (which she checks regularly just to see "if there's anything new," as ABC News reports) then set to work creating Tethys. The device works with carbon nanotube sensors to detect lead levels faster than other current techniques, sending the results to a smartphone app.

As one of 10 finalists for the Young Scientist Challenge, Rao spent the summer working with a 3M scientist to refine her device, then presented the prototype to a panel of judges from 3M and schools across the country.

The contamination crisis in Flint is still ongoing, and Rao's invention could have a significant impact. In March 2017, Flint officials cautioned that it could be as long as two more years until the city's tap water will be safe enough to drink without filtering. The state of Michigan now plans to replace water pipes leading to 18,000 households by 2020. Until then, residents using water filters could use a device like Tethys to make sure the water they're drinking is safe. Rao plans to put most of the $25,000 prize money back into her project with the hopes of making the device commercially available.

[h/t The Cut]

All images by Andy King, courtesy of the Discovery Education 3M Young Scientist Challenge.

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Google's AI Can Make Its Own AI Now
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Artificial intelligence is advanced enough to do some pretty complicated things: read lips, mimic sounds, analyze photographs of food, and even design beer. Unfortunately, even people who have plenty of coding knowledge might not know how to create the kind of algorithm that can perform these tasks. Google wants to bring the ability to harness artificial intelligence to more people, though, and according to WIRED, it's doing that by teaching machine-learning software to make more machine-learning software.

The project is called AutoML, and it's designed to come up with better machine-learning software than humans can. As algorithms become more important in scientific research, healthcare, and other fields outside the direct scope of robotics and math, the number of people who could benefit from using AI has outstripped the number of people who actually know how to set up a useful machine-learning program. Though computers can do a lot, according to Google, human experts are still needed to do things like preprocess the data, set parameters, and analyze the results. These are tasks that even developers may not have experience in.

The idea behind AutoML is that people who aren't hyper-specialists in the machine-learning field will be able to use AutoML to create their own machine-learning algorithms, without having to do as much legwork. It can also limit the amount of menial labor developers have to do, since the software can do the work of training the resulting neural networks, which often involves a lot of trial and error, as WIRED writes.

Aside from giving robots the ability to turn around and make new robots—somewhere, a novelist is plotting out a dystopian sci-fi story around that idea—it could make machine learning more accessible for people who don't work at Google, too. Companies and academic researchers are already trying to deploy AI to calculate calories based on food photos, find the best way to teach kids, and identify health risks in medical patients. Making it easier to create sophisticated machine-learning programs could lead to even more uses.

[h/t WIRED]

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