Communication · Computer Security

50+ Years of Innovation


I recently gave a presentation at the DC Campus of Drexel University, at a forum on ‘Cybersecurity in the year 2024’.  My good friend, retired USAF Colonel Norman Balchunas, assembled thought leaders, mainly from the Washington DC area, to discuss cybersecurity, learn more about Drexel University’s various cyber programs and help devise a ‘road ahead’.   I was asked to give my thoughts as to the security concerns we should be considering as we forge ahead.  This presentation formed the basis for the discussions throughout the session.
I chose to show some of the innovation from the past 50 years to demonstrate how many of these relatively recent developments are now a part of common life.  I chose to show innovation which were technical in nature, not, for instance, Viagra.
  • TV Remote Control (1955).  This is not to be confused with the use of remote controls, as these were demonstrated in World War II, to remotely guide bombs onto targets.  The original remote controls used ultrasound, which probably drove many of our pets nuts.  Zenith made the first remote control. Remote controls use infrared today, for the most part.  This also drives me nuts, because I still have to maintain a line of sight connection between my remote and my ‘box’.
  • Microwave Oven (1955).  The first commercial microwaves were sold by Tappan.  Percy Spencer of Raytheon noticed a chocolate bar melted in his pocket in 1947, an outgrowth of radar technology.
  • Jet Airliner (1958).  As long as I’ve been alive, travel by jet airplanes has been common.  I routinely fly to China, nonstop, in 15 hours.
  • Cordless Tools (1961). The first cordless drill was sold by Black and Decker.  Today cordless tools exist for almost everything and come in a wide variety of voltage, roughly equating to strength or speed.
  • Industrial Robot (1961).  General Motors first began using robotic mechanisms to replace extremely routine procedures.  Today humans supervise vast arrays of robotics to assemble automobiles.
  • Communications Satellite (1962). Telstar was the first communications satellite, Telstar 1 and 2 were actually experimental.  The first useful Telstar satellites began launching in 1983.  Telstar 1 and 2 are still in orbit today.  Oddly enough, high altitude nuchear testing overwhelmed the circuitry in Telstar 1, rendering it useless.  Telstar 1 relayed faxes, television pictures, telephone calls and was even used to synchronize time between the two continents to within 1 milisecond.
  • LED (1962).  The Light Emitting Diode became commercially available in 1962, providing low energy input and output light.  LEDs are now considered a basic electrical component.
  • UAV (1964).  The Ryan AQM-91 Firefly was a UAV developed and used during the Vietnam War.  U2 spyplanes kept getting shot down by improved Surface to Air Missiles and the  Ryan Model 147 Lightning Bug reconnaissance drone lacked the range, so the Firefly was developed.
  • ARPANET (1969).  The predecessor to the Internet was born when 4 computers were linked, using packet switching, as opposed to circuit switching.
  • Cellphone (1973).  Mobile phones were actually around in 1950, but the handheld mobile phone, using a cellular network, was tested in 1973.  Supposedly the first phone call on this net network was place to a rival corporation.
  • GPS (1973).  Based on classified engineering studies from the 1960s, the US Department of Defense originally put 24 satellites in orbit to provide location and time information 24/7/365.  Now GPS networks are owned by Russia, China and others and their civilian use is almost ubiquitous.
  • IEEE 802.16 (2002).  Commonly known as WiMax, this networking protocol allows networks, up to 30 some miles apart, to be built.

These past 50 years of innovation are about to be dwarfed by innovations of the next 15 years, which I will cover in subsequent blog pieces.

5 thoughts on “50+ Years of Innovation

    1. A couple weeks back, I came across this piece of wearable tech called, MUSE. It is a wearable EEG device that transmits via Bluetooth. I see devices like these and their integration into current techs to be a next step in technology, if the developers can get it to work as they imply it does.

  1. Joel, I am on travel for the next couple of weeks. Give me a call at 703 697 1856 and let’s set up a time to meet. Innovation in defense is high on my list to discuss. j

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