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7 Surprising Technologies From World War I

WWI marked the first time technology was widely used in war. Look back 100 years at early drones, wearables, and other technologies that had lasting influence.
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Tech from the trenches in WWI
One hundred years ago -- June 28, 1914 -- a series of events began leading up to the First World War. A human tragedy of enormous scale, the world after WWI was much different than the world before. Among other distinctions, WWI arguably brought us the first technological war -- a war in which the race to develop new weapons was as feverish as that to develop new tactics. In a war that saw battle lines move little in the space of two to four years, and in which small movements in those lines came at a cost of tens of thousands of lives per meter, military leaders were desperate for any technology that could deliver even the smallest advantage over their enemies.

As is the case with most times of great change, some of the developments involved evolution of existing technology, some were based on re-application of technologies already in use for other purposes, and some were brand-spanking new developments in science and technology. We've examined all three types in this slideshow, and we think that the combination will reveal some surprises for most readers.

It's easy to believe, for example, that WWI saw the first significant use of mobile electrical devices. But if you thought that aerial drones are a product of the GoPro generation, then you're in for a surprise. It's possible you'll also be caught off guard by some of the things that were first carried in the First World War: It's one thing to coordinate the actions of huge groups with a central tech repository. It's quite another to put the means of that coordination on the arm of every team leader in the organization.

Even at a century's remove, the utter horror of this war can't be forgotten. Some of our peeks into the technologies of World War I carry a light tone, but our levity is reserved for the technologies (and the forms they took) rather than the sacrifices of those who served, or for the families, nations -- and nations that were never to be again -- that they left behind.

The political maps of the world were redrawn by what seemed to be a simple assassination a hundred years ago. Whether we stop to think of it often or not, our lives and the technology that surrounds us were similarly changed. While 100 years is a long time in tech terms, some of the technologies that made their debut (or became widespread) during the First World War continue to shape our world today. Let's take a look back at them.

(Source: Public Domain)

Curtis Franklin Jr. has been writing about technologies and products in computing and networking since the early 1980s. He contributes to a number of technology-industry publications including Information Week , ChannelWeb , Network ... View Full Bio

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Hospice_Houngbo
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Hospice_Houngbo,
User Rank: Strategist
6/29/2014 | 10:33:16 PM
Re: imagination = reality
"What will the next 100 years hold!"

-Advances in language and communication technologies : your cellphone will speak almost any language on your behalf. 

-Robot armies will fight in place of human beings

-Self-cleaning everything (buildings, clothes...)

etc...
Hospice_Houngbo
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Hospice_Houngbo,
User Rank: Strategist
6/29/2014 | 10:15:37 PM
Re: Animal Tech Goes to War
What was the success rate of those pigeons reaching their destination with their message? More than 50% or less?
PaulS681
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PaulS681,
User Rank: Ninja
6/29/2014 | 6:40:10 PM
interesting stuff
This is all interesting stuff. I had no idea drones were looked at so long ago.
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
6/29/2014 | 2:58:17 PM
Re: Animal Tech Goes to War
@Ariealla - Perfect for any cross-dressing male pigeon.

No doubt they adapted one of their trademark slogans - "The Maidenform Pigeon is a cut above the ordinary."
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Ninja
6/29/2014 | 2:42:08 PM
imagination = reality
It is terrific that technology has made our imagined creations a reality. What will the next 100 years hold!
Ariella
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Ariella,
User Rank: Ninja
6/29/2014 | 2:10:25 PM
Re: Animal Tech Goes to War
@Lufu they still relied on pigeons even in WW II. Miadenform even made a special outfit for the birds

 

 

 
progman2000
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progman2000,
User Rank: Ninja
6/29/2014 | 8:05:39 AM
Love it Curtis
Very apropos as I have been searching for an authentic trench watch recently - love the parallel with WW1 tech!
LUFU
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LUFU,
User Rank: Strategist
6/28/2014 | 7:30:04 PM
Animal Tech Goes to War
While emerging technology played an important role in WWI across the trenches, unfortunately, humans  still depended and integrated animals into their battlefield efforts. Horses were more reliable than engine-powered vehicles but did not stand up well to shells and bullets.

Besides supplying troops provisions for food for sustenance and bullets for destruction, one of the more critical elements in running a military campaign is communications. Yes, there were phones and radios employed at that time but lines can be cut and radio QOS could be dodgy. Sometimes, the miltary relied on pigeons - not to drop their bombs on troops but to carry communications across lines.

 
Gary_EL
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Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
6/28/2014 | 2:50:12 PM
War! What is it Good For?
I'm reading an absolutely fascinating book of the same title by Ian Morris. His startling point is that, in the Very Long Run, war creates larger, more stable states (leviathans, from Hobbs). The result of the creation of these Leviathans is that, even when the leviathans go to war, fewer people die violent deaths than the situation of constant person-to-person or tribe vs. tribe violence that existed in the previous state. He backs it up with very sobering archeological evidence. And, it was only advances in technology that enabled the Leviathans to form in the first place.
PaulMclean
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PaulMclean,
User Rank: Apprentice
6/28/2014 | 1:22:06 PM
Re:
The poison gas was among the most feared the weapons used in World War I. The soldiers feared the deadly agony and long-drawn suffering caused by poison gases.

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