Every year, governments spend billions on research into procuring the latest methods of defence. While newer developments remain tightly under wraps as ongoing military concerns, other products which could be seen as a benefit to civilian life eventually make their way into mass production.
In wartimes of the past, the same factories that made Jeeps for army use converted back into making normal cars during peacetime; this is an example of the sharing of resources that benefitted soldier and civilian alike. Since then, and as technology has come on in leaps and bounds, products originally designed to give opposing forces the edge have made their way to mainstream adoption.
Originated by the US Department of Defence in the 1970s, the Global Positioning System is now used by seven out of ten American drivers as a navigation tool to direct them between destinations. It was estimated that by this time next year, consumers worldwide will spend $13 billion on GPS receivers and accessories; the most common of these being ‘sat nav’ systems such as Tom Tom. It’s been an invaluable aid to drivers all around the world, and is now beginning to feature in cars as standard rather than as an extra add-on.
The technology wasn’t made readily available to the public upon its advent in case it fell into the wrong hands, but was eventually supplied for civilian aircraft in the 1980s, partly because of a navigation error which led to the deaths of 269 passengers and crew when their flight from New York to Seoul was shot down by a Soviet patrol. Until the transfer to GPS, planes had relied on a system known as “dead reckoning” – a series of course calculations made by estimates of speed and the time taken to travel.
Another instrument that is now becoming commonplace in cars is the “black box” which, unlike its garishly-coloured cousin, is actually black. During the Second World War, our boffins joined with the best engineering minds in France to create a flight data recorder which kept track of flight statistics such as speed and altitude, so that they could improve on a plane’s design in the event of sub-par aerodynamic performance. In the unusual event of a crash, the ‘black’ box was placed inside a durable orange casing that would both protect it from impact, and be easily located in the wreckage. A similar concept can now be found in cars as a way to record data in the event of an accident, which can be used as evidence to help in an insurance claim. The idea is that drivers who use telematics technology can benefit from cheaper car insurance by proving their responsibility.
These concepts, along with many others, are proof that the pioneering work done by military research and development can make modern driving easier and safer – not to mention cheaper!