World War I: The War of the Inventors
By Robert Colburn
IEEE Spectrum wen site
One hundred years ago, as the international conflict that became known as World War I began, most Europeans were predicting a quick victory. Within a few months, it became clear their optimism was unrealistic. As the fighting spread and grew more deadly, the role of engineering and invention took on new urgency.
Eventually, the Great War became known in certain circles as an “inventor’s war.” To be sure, many of the inventions people now associate with World War I—submarines, torpedoes, fighter and bomber aircraft—had actually been conceived earlier. However, the pressures of war pushed their advancement. Here are four such technologies that still influence our world today.
SONAR: Making the Sea Safe for Democracy
In the years leading up to the war, navies that had submarines used them mainly for coastal defense. Germany changed that by developing its U-boats into long-range offensive weapons. That shift in military strategy compelled the Allies to 1) also begin using submarines offensively and 2) develop countermeasures to protect cross-Atlantic shipping.
The work of Reginald Fessenden proved crucial. After an iceberg sank the RMS Titanic in 1912, the Canadian radio pioneer began conducting underwater acoustic experiments in search of a way to protect ships from submerged obstacles. This led him to invent an electro-mechanical oscillator, a device carried aboard a ship that would transmit sound through the water at a specified frequency and then listen for reflections from any objects in the vicinity. He developed the technology first as a means of communicating with (friendly) submarines and later as a warning device that could be attached to navigation buoys to alert approaching ships of shoals and other hazards. In October 1914, the British Navy purchased Fessenden oscillator sets for underwater signaling, and in November 1915 decided to equip all of its submarines with them.
Read the entire article on the IEEE Spectrum web site.
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