Many of the technologies we have today are just concepts in the past but we are now able to use them in our everyday lives. When it comes to notable patents, most of us might think about Thomas Edison’s electric bulb or incandescent light, or maybe Alexander Graham Bell’s telephone.
Though these patents are indeed notable, did you know that there are other patents that are able to transform our way of life? If you’re curious about them, here are some of the patents that changed the world.
1. Global Positioning System (GPS)
Today, we are able to find the precise location of establishments and people through the use of Global Positioning System or GPS. Most of the cars and smart phones today have this feature, making it easy for us to travel anywhere without the worry of getting lost.
The Navy invented the GPS satellites and Roger L. Easton was the mastermind of it, as well as its developing technologies for the Naval Research Laboratory in the 1950’s, to track U.S. satellites in orbit. He developed the Naval Space Surveillance system in 1959 to track the objects orbiting over the United States.
After a few decades, Roger Easton turned the technology around, tracking objects on the ground from space. In 1974, he was awarded a patent which describes methods to enable navigation with satellites. Its patent name was, navigation system using satellites and passive ranging techniques. In 1977, the first GPS data was transmitted by the Navigation Technology Satellite 2.
For years, this technology remained within the military. The United States used GPS to navigate the deserts of Iraq and Kuwait during the Gulf War or also known as the first space war. In 1995, GPS became fully operational, having 24 satellites and in the present time, everyone has access to it through the use of Google Maps.
The patent name of Bluetooth is, “peer to peer information exchange for mobile communications devices”. It was invented by Jaap Haartsen in 1994 to allow electronic devices that are close to each other connect through a low-power, ultra-high-frequency radio waves. Before it was successfully patented, Jaap Haartsen had drafted multiple patents for it but they were blocked by lawsuits and patent trolls.
The 2013 patent of Bluetooth describes how it can be used in transmitting GPS data. It uses small computer chips that are implanted in devices. These chips serve as mini radios which run the software needed to connect to each other. With this system, the devices which are in “pair” will be able to share data.
In the present time, the Bluetooth technology is being used in almost all handheld devices such as cell phones, cameras, wireless headphones, and even smart thermostats.
3. Third Generation Wireless Mobile Telecommunications (3G)
What made analog cellphones possible was the first generation of wireless mobile telecommunications, but it was 3G, or the third generation wireless mobile telecommunications which transformed the devices we use every day.
Based on its patent, it connects cellphones and the internet, making video calling and streaming possible on handheld devices. The improvements on 3G network made the 4G infrastructure possible.
iPhone was a patented device of the 21st century. Apple’s patent name for it was simply an “electronic device”. Though this is not the very first phone to connect to the internet, its design has transformed the look and function of a device that a lot of people use every day.
iPhone is more of a handheld computer and the subsequent improvements of this device have influenced the communication, navigation and even way of thinking of humans.
5. 3D Printer
The 1986 patent for a 3D printer shows the basic technology that most 3D printers used which is stereolithography or light-solidification of resin. It works by taking inputs from a computer, then it positions the base under a nozzle. The nozzle would then release liquid resin, forming the object layer by layer then solidified by UV light.
With the advancement of technology, 3D printing became apparent. Today, there are now metal-printing methods, printing constructions such as rocket engines. It has made giant strides in the modern age and it’s quite difficult to imagine life without it.
6. Solar Panels
Solar panels were patented as “Apparatus for utilizing solar radiant energy”. The idea came from a French physicist named Edmund Bequerel in the early 19th century. It was when he discovered that there are certain materials that can generate small electric current when they are exposed to light which is called photovoltaic effect. The first photovoltaic cell was created by Bequerel in 1839 through connecting silver chloride to platinum electrodes.
After 50 years, Edward Weston was awarded the first US patent for a solar cell. His invention causes an electrical current in a circuit once it’s exposed to light. Weston invented solar cell with the thought of utilizing the energy accumulated during the day at night or on cloudy days.
Over the decades, the solar panel technology continued to improve and today, the majority of the industry is dependent on these solar panels.
7. Virtual Reality (VR)
In the present time, Virtual Reality (VR) headsets are used to watch movies and play video games. But did you know that its first proposed patent was named “Virtual reality generator for displaying abstract information”? Yes, and it was proposed to help users analyze financial data.
In 2000, a patent for a virtual reality generator was awarded to Paul Marshall. He describes it as a computer-generated world where the user could navigate through by using control devices like a keyboard, joystick, steering wheel, trackball, or an electronic data glove. He continued to improve this technology but it remained primarily for research and for financial analysts.
In 2016, Oculus Rift released the very first entertainment headset and it was followed by many others such as Samsung VR and Google Cardboard which use smartphones to display the computer world.
8. Brain Implant
The patent name of brain implant was “Three-dimensional electrode device. The idea came in the late 1800s when doctors realized that stimulating the brain electrically can cause physical movement in animals and in humans as well. In the 20th century, there were brain stimulation experiments performed that successfully changed a patient’s mood and behavior.
In the 1993 patent from the University of Utah, they described it as an implantable, integrated apparatus that contacts the brain with a plurality of metal needles to detect electric signals or to transmit signals to the brain.
With those patents, brain implant has been improved in the past years to the extent that patients can now move robotic prosthetics and even type texts on a computer with just their thoughts.
9. Bionic Eye
Bionic eye is also known as a visual prosthesis. It is a visual device that is intended to restore functional vision in people who are suffering from blindness.
In 1969, the first attempt to restore sight to the blind was made by doctors G.S. Brindley and W.S. Lewin when they surgically implanted a device in a 52-year-old patient. It was not implanted in the eye but on the optical lobe of the brain instead. It stimulated the neurons of the brain, causing the patient to see spots of light in half his field of vision.
In the present time, smaller electronics are being used and they can be directly implanted to the retina, which was described in the 2013 patent of bionic eye.
10. Quadcopter Drone
The patent for the quadcopter drone was named “Omni-directional, vertical-lift, helicopter drone”. Today, drones can be found over places, taking amazing footages of the spots that are impossible to reach.
The quadcopter drone was first patented in 1962 when an engineer named Edward G. Vanderlip designed a way to allow a helicopter’s instruments to continue functioning even when there is power failure. He then incorporated it into a small, remotely-operated rotary aircraft.
As years passed, other electronic systems are added to it such as cameras and GPS navigation, making it a great device for a lot of people.
11. Magnetic Levitation
Magnetic Levitation or also known as Maglev has a patent name of “Electromagnetic inductive suspension and stabilization system for a ground vehicle. It started when Eric Laithwaite realized that a linear motor can be used to develop a transportation system based on magnetic fields.
His work was widely studied and in 1967, the first patent for a maglev train was issued to James Powell and Gordon Danby of the Brookhaven National Laboratory. In 1995, the first maglev shuttle was opened in the UK. The Germans then built and tested a lot of prototypes which resulted in the Transrapid. The fastest commercial train in service was a Transrapid in Shanghai which has an operating speed of 270 mph, and an LO series maglec train in Japan with a record of 375 mph.
12. Motorized Exoskeleton
Exoskeletons are used to facilitate walking and its patent name was “Locomotion assisting device and method”. They were first invented by Nicholas Yagin in 1890.
The US military launched a powered exoskeleton project in the 1960s and it was called Hardiman which was developed by General Electric. It was created to amplify the strength of a soldier, enabling him to lift 1,500 pounds. However, it suffered from uncontrolled movements that’s why it was never tested with a human inside.
As the years passed, the exoskeleton technology was improved by variety of companies. In 2014, a patent was issued to ReWalk for a motorized exoskeleton that are being used in rehab centers to help people with lower paralysis to sit, stand, and walk.
13. CRISPR Gene Editing
The CRISPR is a gene editing tool that was developed at the University of California, Berkely, and it’s used to modify single-celled organisms. It has a patent name of “CRISPR-Cas sytems and methods for altering expression of gene products”.
In its 2014 patent, it was improved to work on multi-celled organisms by the Broad Institute partnered with Harvard and MIT. In the present time, it is used to modify livestock and crops, and also to treat humans with leukemia. This gene editing tool can be injected to embryos as immune system cells, and then injected to a patient.
Graphene is an allotrope form of carbon. It consists a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal framework. It is a lightweight material but about 200 times stronger compared to similar layers of steel.
It is ideally for computer chips, airline wings, and a list of other uses. It is made from chunks of graphite which is similar to that of a pencil. In 2004, Andre Geim and Konstantin Novoselov from the University of Manchester made an experiment where they extracted single-layer, atom-thick crystals of graphene using adhesive tape. It was known as the “Scotch tape method” which earned a Nobel Prize in Physics in 2010.
15. Self-Driving Car
Today, many technology and car companies are developing self-driving cars such as Amazon, Tesla, and Google. Some are even thinking that they will soon replace the public transportation and even conventional cars in cities, which can help eliminate traffic.
The patent name of the self-driving car is “vision system for an autonomous vehicle”. Though they may be prevalent today, its history can be traced back to almost a hundred years.
Houdina Radio Control navigated a driverless Chandler down Manhattan in 1925 through radio signals from a car following it behind. And after 70 years, Carnegie Mellon University created a project called “No Hands Across America” where a person drove 3,100 miles across the country using a semi-autonomous car where he just did the accelerating and breaking and the car handled all the steering.
After that, a lot of patents for self-driving car exist but in July 2013, VisLab was awarded the first patent for self-driving car technology with a camera and sensor system.
These patents certainly have big contributions in our way of living today and they are able to truly change the world.