Frontiers of Engineering: 5 Advanced Military Technologies Adapted for Commercial Automobiles

Armored Car Convoy

When it comes to technology, many can often be traced back to their origins as a military necessity. Indeed, the need to innovate often grows from times of conflict or extreme need; hence, the saying: “Necessity is the mother of invention.” Research and technological developments have become incredibly important in turning the tide of military combat.

During peacetime, such tools of war transition from military to civilian use, creating countless technological improvements we take for granted in our everyday lives. And while there are diverse examples of military innovation to select from, we’ve chosen five outstanding examples of advanced military technology that has transformed the automobile industry from past to present.

1. Global Positioning System (GPS)

Found in most vehicles today and in every smartphone available, the Global Positioning System (GPS) is perhaps one of the most underrated military technologies developed in the 20th century. Originally developed by the U.S. Department of Defense for military purposes in the 1970s, GPS technology became modernized in the mid-90s to be adapted for civilian use.

Since its integration for civilian use, GPS technology has made a big difference in people’s lives in general. GPS has created safer driving conditions for motorists today. Its technological features such as turn-by-turn directions and accurate tracking system mean motorists always know where they’re going, distractions are significantly reduced, and night driving is improved considerably.

Other features such as hands-free calling and special “help” buttons have also enhanced the driving experience of motorists.

2. Guided missile components

The prospect of self-driving vehicles means that the automotive industry may soon be heading toward a future of total automation. Great strides are being made by companies such as Google and Tesla to introduce the concept of fully autonomous vehicles to the mass market. The conversation on driverless vehicles continues to dominate the automotive landscape, and we have military innovation to thank for that.

Other companies such as Mitsubishi are joining in on the conversation. In fact, they intend to convert the necessary software and components found in guided missiles to serve as key components for their autonomous vehicles.

Along with the missile-derived tech, Mitsubishi plans to link their autonomous vehicles, set to roll out in 2020, to advanced GPS technology to ensure each vehicle is deployed with lane assist, adaptive cruise control, obstacle avoidance, valet parking, and up-to-date location data features.

3. Internal combustion engine

Until the introduction of the internal combustion engine in World War 1, battlefields were static affairs, resulting in the manifestation of trench warfare, making battlefields increasingly dense and difficult to traverse. The maturity of the internal combustion engine resulted in the introduction of the tank and combat aircraft to the battlefield. This ushered in a paradigm shift in battle lines that eventually translated to the creation of armored military vehicles.

While internal combustion engines today may be synonymous with civilian automobiles, the role it played during wartime efforts introduced tactical mobility to a static battlefield, thereby revolutionizing the battlefield and, in turn, people’s daily lives.

4. Head-up display

While video games are often mentioned when discussing head-up display or HUD technology, it was initially developed by Germany during World War II for their military aviation fleet.

Since then, HUD has been modernized by the likes of General Motors to be deployed in civilian automobiles. Today’s HUDs give motorists critical information needed to navigate the roads and oncoming traffic without the distraction of turning away or glancing down to access critical information. Cars such as the BMW 7 Series and Lexus RX currently employ head-up display technology.

5. Computers

Computers may now be a staple of everyday life, but when they were originally invented, they were built for the purposes of being used for military design. The first electronic computer, ENIAC, was programmed by the U.S. military to assist their Ballistic Research Laboratory during World War II. Since then, other electronic computers were developed to aid the wartime effort, from RPG protection systems to tactical sensors and battlefield situational awareness.

Since their humble beginnings, computers have permeated every aspect of daily life. This includes everything from smartphones to automobiles. Cars today have become rolling computers, being employed throughout all aspects of the automotive vehicle, from sensors to airbag systems. Much like the internal combustion engine or the GPS, computers have revolutionized how cars work, and how they’re made.

These technological advancements have ignited a renaissance in today’s automotive vehicles. Military technology that has migrated to civilian use has massively contributed to our technological pathway, resulting in more complex and sophisticated systems. Without such contributions, the present state of the automotive industry may look drastically different than what we’re used to.