Throughout America's wartime, we've seen some stellar military innovations come to fruition. But when those ideas merge with the automotive industry, we experience the perfect balance of yin and yang. Let's look at some of the best military technology found in civilian vehicles today.
Most vehicle owners are aware that GPS is widely accessible. And nowadays, navigation systems rely on a network of satellites to provide geographical positioning. In 1995, the Department of Defense used GPS to guide missiles and ships. And with much success, the car industry adopted it as a means of travel, eventually eliminating paper maps.
Taking it a step further, the U.S. Navy launched an atomic clock into space known as Timaton in 1967. Timaton acted as a prerequisite for the GPS. Because orbital time passes slower than time on the ground, a satellite clock's sole purpose is to stay in sync with ground clocks.
Engineering mastermind and French aviation pioneer Gabriel Voisin developed the first anti-lock braking system for a heavy bomber aircraft. The aircrafts landed harshly and would often blow through tires or take too long to stop. The flywheel ABS allowed the bomber to land softer and more closely to the battle site.
For the next 50 years, the mechanical ABS went unchanged in aircraft. And in 1970, the electronic ABS made headway. Similar systems showed up on GM cars around the same timeframe.
Autopilot – Drive-By-Wire
The 1930's fly-by-wire system was the beginning of the more modern use for drive-by-wire. Many vehicles today use a drive-by-wire system. And while this invention is on the newer side compared to the time scale, it's a direct descendent of the electronic throttle stops found in a 1970's Quadrajet carburetor.
It wasn't until just recently that many automakers began the use of electrical actuators. This type of system provides the brakes with an increase in stability and control in automatic braking. Electrical actuators use radar technology, which is a direct descendent of the military.
Sonar, Laser, Radar
In 1940, the U.S. Navy unveiled Radio Detection and Ranging, a top-secret development designed to protect ships from a sneak attack in the sky. We now know this system as "radar" and can find it in modern-day police cars. Once Germany figured out the secret, the signal jammer was born. A signal jammer acts as a block in the gun's frequency by halting the signal's return.
Modern radar is found in vehicles for ranging – which provides the car with details about its surroundings and contributes to cruise control and auto-braking. Before radar's existence, submarines used sonar. And in today's SUVs, sonar is the assistant in backup warning systems.
LIDAR works like a radar, but with lasers. And while sonar is limited in range, LIDAR has a longer-range distance. Fully autonomous cars utilize LIDAR as it's highly accurate with high-resolution imagery. Rather than detecting concrete structures like buildings, it distinguishes other vehicles and pedestrians.
If we want to be technical, the idea of turbocharging saw its first patent in 1905, but it wasn't until 1915 that we saw the first make. That's when Auguste Rateau, a French engineer, used a few prototypes to power French fighter planes. Sanford Moss, a General Electric engineer, took a Liberty V-12 aircraft and attached a blower to its engine three years later.
Stability and radar are not possible without computers. What may come as a surprise to some is computers are also an innovation of WWII. England built a top-secret computer to break the Lorentz Code from Germany deliberately—and its name was Colossus.
The machines were so massive they required 7.5 kilowatts of power and weighed more than a ton. Much different from today's computers, the Colossus runs at a drastically slower pace. It's worth noting that an IBM z13 storage container is roughly 2,700x faster than the Colossus, and only about a square inch in size.
Aside from cylinder bores, which we will get to next, the idea of interchangeable parts is one of the top items from wartimes that we use now. Back in the day, nuts and bolts were custom-made for each other and labeled with a number to correspond to its machine. This was how it worked for all devices, including guns.
The introduction of interchangeable parts came from Eli Whitney. The mass production of parts meant they were easier to produce and more cost-effective. Today, we would not be able to own and drive a vehicle without the production of interchangeable parts.
One of the most important pieces of military technology found in civilian vehicles is a cylinder bore. What began as a weapon of war, a cylinder bore has quite possibly done more for the modern world than any other hole. A cylinder bore makes the internal combustion engine functional and is a more recent invention in history.
Accelerometer – Gyroscopic Stabilizer
For stability control and autopilot systems to function correctly, they require a lot of sensors. But accelerometers and gyroscopic stabilizers are right there with them. These sensors originally began in military hardware that flew.
Gyroscopic stabilizers made their first debut in Germany's V-2 ballistic missile. While the V-2 is a lethal weapon of mass destruction, it brings tremendous value to the modern world. Ultimately, GPS and the Space Race don't exist without the V-2. A V-2 utilizes a gyroscopic stabilizer in the guidance system and parallels the functions in the automotive stability control system today.
We've come a long way in terms of technology. It's interesting to think about how we've evolved our battle needs into modern-day uses, especially when it comes to our vehicles. Many hobbyists and military vehicle enthusiasts need to find authentic Kaiser Willys Jeep parts, and Army Jeep Parts has all the supplies and knowledge you'll need.
If you're pondering your restoration project in hopes of bringing a piece of history to life, you'll want to do right by your vehicle and its evolution. That may mean taking something modern back to its wartime roots.