Inventions that shook the world during the 70’s

From bomb disposal by hand to using robots- it helped make the world a little safer. From cameras with films to instant digital snappers which enabled us to even see the people we were chatting with. From land-line phones to mobile phones, it enabled us to talk to anyone anywhere. These were the inventions of the 1970’s, a decade of disco dancing, digital devices and high priced oil. The cellphone, the digital camera and the hybrid car were the inventions that shook the world.

The Cellular Phone (1973)


Being able to phone from anywhere in the world is taken for-granted and with 7 billion people in the world, there are around 6 billion mobile phone subscribers. It was all possible due to Martin Cooper who was the head of the Motorola car division in 1972. He was faced with the challenge of besting his arch rival ‘AT&T’ because they had just launched mobile phones that could work in cars. The car based cellphones were bulky sets that used giant transmitters placed in the trunk of the car to relay signals to the major communication antenna which then connected the phone call further. Operating those cellphones was a tedious process and took half an hour at times. Martin Cooper envisioned a cellular network of smaller antennas that were placed closer to each other to relay the information much more quickly. He was lacking inspiration but while watching a science fiction program, he got an idea as he saw the character use a wireless communicator to talk to a person who was far away.  He presented his idea of a small cellular phone that will use the cellular network. His idea faced reservations but within a year, Dr. Martin Cooper was able to able to create a small working prototype of the cellphone with the help of his team. And within two decades everyone owned a cellphone that provided varying functionality.

The Bomb Disposal Robot (1972)


The bomb disposal robot was invented in 1972 by a British Army officer Peter Miller. The bomb disposal robot allows the bomb squads to do their deadly job from a distance. The Lt. Col. Peter Miller had seen many of the people of the squad blown away while disposing off bombs. He was an eccentric and genius man and he was tasked with finding a way to minimize the death rate while diffusing the bombs. The car bombs were usually booby trapped and the bomb disposal squad was often faced with the task of opening the vehicle before even trying to diffuse the bomb. Peter Miller realized that what he needed was a device that would allow the operators to diffuse the car bombs without even going near them. Time was of essence and he to build something simple to overcome the problem quickly. While sitting in a park, pondering over ideas, he came up with the idea of using a motorized wheel barrow with a system of ropes to create a remote control vehicle. A toe hook could pull the suspicious car away to a safe location surrounded by sand bags to minimize the explosion. Miller and his team worked for days to modify the wheel barrow according to their needs. The prototype comprised of a spring loaded grappling hook and controlled with the help of long ropes. Soon the prototype was put to test and Miller realized that the idea would work. After the success of the prototype, he started adding various things to his remote controlled contraption that helped the bomb squads with time. The invention of the bomb disposal robot earned Peter Miller the gratitude from bomb disposal units all around the world.

The Digital Camera (1975)


In the past holiday snaps had to be sent away to be developed but in the current modern era, pictures can be stored and instantly viewed with the help of a digital camera. The first digital camera was made by Steve Sasson, a new graduate who had just started working at Kodak. Sasson was provided with a camera and a charged couple device (CCD). He was of the view that the CCD chip given to him was a way to the future. A CCD was a small silicon chip that stored information by converting the light into electrical charges to store data. The young Steve was assigned with the task of checking whether the small CCD chip could also store images as it could store other information. It was then Sasson decided to make a camera that only used a CCD chip to store the images. He was picturing a camera that was totally revolutionary. The captured information will then be stored on a magnetic tape. But they faced another problem of viewing the photo since they needed a converter that could convert the digital signal from the camera into a video signal and then display the image on the television. By Dec’ 1975, they had a basic prototype to test. Their test proved successful and it took about 23 seconds to record the image and display. So did Kodak instantly jumped on Sassons new invention? No because Kodak had been selling films and processing them for over 100 years so a camera without any films will be a competitor for sure. It was in the 1990’s that the revolution in photo industry that Sasson started finally took off.

The Hybrid Car (1974)


Ever since the invention of cars, designers have experimented with all sorts of exotic body styles but what powered them remained the same- Petrol, diesel or electric. It was an engineer named Victor Wouk in New York who developed the best of the both. Victor was a problem solver and since 70’s were the gas guzzling cars and emission and fuel efficiency was not on anyone’s mind either. Seeing the pollution due to petrol was causing serious environment issues, Victor thought of making a fully electric car. His experiment wasn’t going well since the batteries couldn’t travel far enough or fast enough as compared to the petrol engine cars. Wouk thought of mixing the power of a petrol engine with the cleanliness and fuel efficiency of an electric engine.  He envisioned using a petrol engine to power an electric motor that drove the wheels. The beauty of the idea was that the petrol engine would run at a constant speed, no revving up or down will mean lower emissions. It would also be extremely efficient because the electric motor would only use a part of the electric engines power at slow speeds and storing the rest in the batteries. When the car is accelerated, the batteries would provide the extra power. Lower petrol usage and cutting emissions without reducing performance had a lot of appeal. Another hybrid enthusiast named Charlie joined the electric car project and together with the help on automotive-engineer they set to build the first electric car. They removed the car’s engine and then worked out how to install the complex arrangement of components. By 1974, they had fitted the car with a bank of batteries and connected the two systems together. He experimented with an innovative braking system to increase the life of the battery.  Normally when a car breaks, the forward energy is dissipated in the form of friction but in Wouk’s hybrid, that energy was harvested to recharge the batteries. Victor finally finished the hybrid petrol electric car that he had been working on for so many years. The hybrid car used half the petrol than the normal car proving that it was fuel efficient as well as environment friendly. Though the car was rejected by EPA, the idea of hybrid cars remained dormant for 25 years when Japan launched its own hybrid car Prius. More than five and a half million hybrids are sold and Victor Wouk, the grandfather of hybrid cars has been vindicated.

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