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Innovation of the Week: Radar

How was one of the most important military inventions discovered?

12 October 2012 - Radar (RAdio Detection And Ranging) is one of the most important military inventions of our time. It is used on navy vessels, air traffic controllers in the air force and countless communications towers and it is said to have won Britain the Second World War. How was it discovered and how has it become such an integral part of militaries worldwide?

The discovery that set the ball rolling occurred in the late 1800s when Heinrich Hertz, a German physicist, was able to show that radio waves could be reflected when directed at solid objects. Once this fact was established other innovators were able to extrapolate and expand on it and discover uses for reflected radio waves.

In 1904 another German inventor, Christian Hülsmeyer, was the first person to use radio waves to detect distant objects, demonstrating the feasibility of detecting a ship in low visibility conditions. Hülsmeyer got a patent for his invention and called it a Telemobiloscope.

The next great discovery in the radar timeline came in 1922 when two researchers working in America noted that it was possible to determine the distant and direction of nearby ships when radio waves were broadcast at a specific frequency (60 Mhz).

By the time the Second World War started, radar had already been proven to detect the presence of ships in low visibility and determine their range and bearing, the military applications were obvious. Britain, fearing an air war was about to take place, looked to Scottish physicist Robert Watson-Watt to develop radar that could detect airplanes, locate airmen and avoid approaching storms. By 1938 England had the world’s first practical radar system.

From aerospace to the military to the marine industry, radar has become an essential part of operations for many industries. As tape made with Dyneema® is extremely tough and durable it is now being used to construct the domes that are used to house radar antennae on ships and on land. As well established as it is now, radar is still a growing industry and presents a host of new innovation opportunities, from higher frequencies to zero-signal loss.

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