We’ve touched on the History of Bone Conduction Headphone Technology and the Military subject several times in previous blogs discussing Bone Conduction technology, but we felt like it may be worth a deeper dive. After all, this is one of the main arenas of life where technology became essential and in doing so, got noticed by the rest of the world.
For this reason, we feel like it shouldn’t be ignored, it’s an important chapter in the story for Bone Conduction technology and is well worth exploring in more detail.
“Innovation in a time of crisis”
Like many technological innovations before it, Bone Conduction technology started out as a specialist military communication function. It’s a fact, a sad one, but a fact nonetheless that a lot of the technology we use and take for granted today was created to aid our armed forces in a particular conflict. “Innovation in a time of crisis” is generally what it’s referred to and there are plenty of examples of it throughout history. Although some of these innovations actually can occur within peacetime or relative peacetime.
Many of them can be made as a way to prevent conflict or to gain the upper hand before the conflict begins, lessening the horror when it does. Perhaps the biggest and most influential example of a military innovation; that over time became something used by nearly everyone all over the world, is the internet.
World Wide Web
The World Wide Web started out life as a way of connecting various military computers during the Cold War. As this was a war of espionage and intelligence gathering rather than a traditional war of bombs and bullets, the Allies (USA, UK, France, etc.) needed new creative ways of sharing information between them and communicating covertly. The project was originally commissioned by the United States Military in the 1960s and was referred to as the ARPANET. Later the project was passed to MIT where it began to take shape.
This grew in size and prominence over the next thirty years, with all of the Allied forces contributing to it, growing and sharing the network between them. This was until the internet in its current form was invented by British engineer Sir Timothy Berners-Lee. Or Tim BL; as he’s affectionately known as in the engineering community, who had a very different vision for what the internet could be. He wanted to move the invention away from shared military ownership and into the hands of more people who could use it to benefit their daily lives.
War, however, tends to bring out human creativity in ways that peacetime can never seem to emulate. Perhaps it’s because the combatant’s backs are against the wall. Winning the war and the survival of a nation, a culture, and an entire people are often the same things. Those coming up with strategies to win are sometimes quite literally fighting for their lives, so no wonder innovation seems to be at its peak during wartime.
The examples are plentiful also, the Browning machine gun is the weapon that caused so much devastation and loss of life during the First World War. The world had never really seen anything like it, in terms of firearms; many soldiers were still using single-shot rifles and pistols. A weapon that sprayed bullets out at a rapid and lethal rate was unheard of at the time. The weapon was new, and nobody quite believed something that destructive was possible.
Please see our other informative articles such as “Smartphone AI: Who Has Your Facial Recognition and Fingerprint Scans?” and “Bone Conduction Technology Leading to Headphones In the Early 1800s Through the 20th Century.”
The Invention of The Machine Gun
Due to the invention of the machine gun, the Great War soon led to trench warfare with neither side seemingly able to make significant progress without an atrocious loss of life. The allies continued to underestimate the destructive force of the German guns and continued with their ineffective strategy of just sending troops over the top’ of the trenches, again and again, just to be mowed down by the machine guns. This abominable tactic went on for years and killed thousands of British soldiers during the first few hours of the Battle of the Somme. The Allies didn’t learn until it was too late for hundreds of thousands of young men.
Many historians believe that the war was the inevitable climax to decades of Imperial posturing between the European powers. Each one was always at war with another as each nation went about building its own empire at the expense of their neighbors and rivals. Spain, France, Germany, Russia, and Britain being the main offenders, at least until the Treaty of Versailles.
It was here that each nation agreed to deemphasize the importance of empires and work together for the collective benefit of all involved. A vision that would eventually materialize into the European Union, sadly though it took another equally bloody World War to finally get to this point.
This was because of how poorly Germany was treated by the victors of World War I. This mistake only led to bitterness and resentment, and in their desperation, Germany ended up putting its faith in a radical and murderous dictator.
Following World War II
Following World War II this mistake was not repeated. The world was tired of war but had been forever changed by it. Before the First World War, each Imperial power had been hard at work building up their munitions industry and technology in an arms race that could only ever lead to war. Even before the conflict began, every nation was guilty of spoiling for a fight, once the Axis Powers and Allies formed their alliances it just seemed like the natural endgame to such a state of affairs.
World War I was actually rather important as far as innovation in war goes, the machine gun wasn’t the only new technical advancement during the arms race’. Britain had begun building its new Dreadnaught warships, Germany had created its U-boats to counter this and the term weapons of mass destruction’ was coined while scientists came up with new creative methods to kill their enemies.
Technology Created During Wartime
Like lots of the technology created during wartime, many of these innovations are still used today. Warships, particularly aircraft carriers are now essential tools in the arsenal of every developed country, and the technology that inspired the German U-boats has had a lasting influence on submarine design.
However, it’s weapons of mass destruction that have perhaps created the most lasting and controversial conversation regarding innovation in a time of war. A conversation that’s still very much ongoing today. Experiments in atomic and nuclear physics eventually led to the development of the atomic bomb.
World War II is thought to have expedited this research as the United States attempted to end the war in the Pacific once the war in Europe had started to wind down. Even following Germany’s defeat, Japan showed no signs of surrendering despite the now overwhelming odds against them.
Instead of the Allies drawing their exhausted forces from Europe to end the war in Asia, they instead opted to test the atomic bomb first on Hiroshima and then Nagasaki. Japan soon did surrender, and the Second World War was brought to a close.
While it’s a controversial view, war provides an opportunity for weapons and technology to be tested. Where using such technology, even as weapons are often used to win a war, naturally, the country or force using it is curious to test its effectiveness. The atomic bomb and the Browning machine gun are indeed examples of this. Both were used to gain an advantage in war, but of course, understanding how well they worked is an important thing for the creators/users to learn.
Of course, we’re not singling out Germany or the United States, every nation has done this at some point throughout history. They are just the two most well-known examples. Others include medieval Britain unleashing its longbows on the French army, and the French responding in kind centuries later with their crossbows against the British. At the time of their creation, both of these wartime innovations were considered weapons of mass destruction in their own way.
The invention of The Trebuchet or Catapult
The same goes for the invention of the trebuchet or the catapult, this completely rewrote the rulebook when it came to siege warfare in the Far East. Also, imagine being a soldier in 9th century China and witnessing the destructive capabilities of gunpowder for the first time. It would have seemed like malevolent sorcery to those who probably didn’t even have a word to describe an explosion at this point in history. Fast forward to 2019 and the Far East is still at the forefront for creating cutting edge technology, particularly Japan. Although we’re fairly confident that the Sony PlayStation and Toshiba laptop were innovations designed in peacetime!
But it isn’t only weapons that advance in times of war. Of course, this piece is actually about Bone Conduction headphones, so really, we’re examining how communication has evolved and progressed during periods of conflict and adversity. But it’s important to understand why this occurs and how each conflict has impacted the technology we use. While we would never claim the war is worth the innovation, there are arguments to be made that without war, human technological progression may, in fact, have been slower.
Communication and Other Forms of Technology
Before the First World War, although guns and bombs had existed in some primitive capacity since the 13th century, many European armies were still using cavalry to gain an advantage on the battlefield. The battle of Waterloo is an example where cannon fire played an important role, but it was the British cavalry charge that ultimately cost Napoleon his dream of a single European Empire.
These tactics were largely still in use at the start of the First World War, but after this conflict and its successor, the world had truly entered an era of modernity. One wonders if this would have been possible without the desperation and creativity war inspires.
In regards to communication and other forms of technology, many of the advances that took place during both World Wars led the groundwork for lots of techniques and systems that we still use today.
The story of The Imitation Game is indeed one of the most well-known, Alan Turing and his team used their own incredible minds and (at that time what was) cutting edge technology to intercept and translate messages that the Germans were sending to each other. This group of scientists and code crackers arguably did just as much to help the allies win World War Two than any boot on the ground. The main takeaway here is that weapons aren’t the only technological advancement that evolves during wartime or indeed contributes to winning it.
Bone Conduction Headphones in Crisis as an Example of Innovation
Crisis doesn’t always mean war however, Bone Conduction headphones as an example were actually an innovation that’s continued to develop, and get rolled out to the military, during peacetime. But if a single soldier was injured (even during a drill or practice exercise) as a result of listening to instructions in their ear, therefore not focusing on the task at hand, then this would pose a risk to all solders. Ergo, represent a crisis.
Before we know it, Bone Conduction technology is funded by military research and development teams, and even innovations that are created by civilian manufacturers and audio engineers (for deaf people) are soon replicated and used to improve the tech as a whole.
There are countless examples throughout history where some form of crisis has inspired some lasting change and technological advancement. After all, the saying does claim that necessity is the mother of invention’.
Inspiration strikes hardest when there is a pressing need, and potentially dire consequences if a solution is not found. Medicine is a great example; we don’t create vaccines for aliments nobody has. Smallpox has been eradicated from the world due to the misery it caused. Millions and millions of dollars are put into researching a cure for cancer every year because the disease kills a supposed 1 in 3 human beings worldwide.
Although there is absolutely a correlation between war and innovations in technology, and indeed lots of these innovations aren’t designed to be used as weapons. But like weapons, once they had served their purpose during a crisis, then technology is repurposed to see where else it can be of use. Let’s not forget that weapons can also be used as deterrents. There’s doesn’t actually need to be a desire or ability to really use them.
Historical Aspects of Bone Conduction Noble H. Kelley Ph.D First published: February 1937
“This Is For Everyone”
“This Is For Everyone” is the mantra uttered by Sir Timothy Berners-Lee as he went about trying to bring the World Wide Web into as many homes around the world as he could, free from military interference from the United States government or even his own government in the UK. The two governments he had worked with for so long soon relented and he got his wish.
Many years later, long after the Cold War had ended, his famous words were reiterated (and celebrated) during the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games through a guest appearance by Tim BL. This saw him sitting at a computer before pressing a key, moments later the words “This Is For Everyone” illuminated the stands of the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park Stadium.
Now we’re not pretending for a moment that Bone Conduction technology is on the same level as the internet in terms of significance or influence, but it does share a similar history. Although Bone Conduction technology was originally created to help those who suffer from deafness and other hearing impairments, the technology was utilized (and perfected) by the military to help them create non-traditional communication devices for use on operations.
Prior to this, the military had been using a sophisticated form of airbud and microphone, not unlike the headsets we see in movies. The difficulty with this, however, was having a speaker in your ear, no matter how tiny, quiet and discreet, was still a risky strategy. It will in some form, muffle sound and get in the way of ambient noise.
Bone Conduction Headphones, Airbuds, and Microphones
Both have gone on to be used by the public to help benefit their lives and enjoy their freedom in so many different ways. While nobody on this site will argue with the statement that Bone Conduction headphones are awesome, the internet could make a case for the most influential and important invention of the 20th century.
While the internet has gone on to permeate nearly every area of our lives, communication and leisure are possibly the two it has reached the most. The World Wide Web is a tool that’s so influential, if it were taken away then the world would come to a screeching halt.
Many of us are old enough to remember a time before the internet. Even those of us as young as thirty laugh when we think back to the internet in its early years. The iconic noise of dial-up modems, the constant dread of someone picking up the house phone and disconnecting us, or one certain internet providers helpful and also legendary You got mail’ voice.
These features are actually having somewhat of a renaissance thanks to the levels of nostalgia that we attach to them. They are being recreated as ringtones and audible memes that take us back to another time, a time that really wasn’t that long ago.
Moving Into Our Future
Moving into our future these features are etched into us and it’s hard to remember a time before them. Those born after this have never known an era when superfast broadband wasn’t as essential as electricity and running water. There was a time when this technology like this was considered a luxury rather than a necessity.
This is where we believe Bone Conduction technology is now. When I use my pair in the gym I often get looked at or asked a question about my headphones. Some people wonder what they are, while others know about Bone Conduction headphones and simply want to know what I think of them. How do they work? Would I recommend them? How much did they cost? Etc.
I’m not even the only gymgoer who uses them either. I’m seeing them more and more, but as far as headphones go they are relatively uncommon when compared to standard headphones and earbuds. The technology hasn’t caught fire yet, but it’s slowly gaining traction as their benefits are realized.
The Bone Conduction Battlefield
An operative on the battlefield or in a high stakes situation may be at risk of not hearing nearby danger because they’re too busy listening to their instructions. In some cases, this could be the difference between life and death, so it became essential to find an alternative method of communicating with field operatives. A method that didn’t risk either distracting them from their work or putting them in danger by preventing them from hearing what’s going on around them.
Bone Conduction technology allowed field operatives to still be able to hear and receive instructions but also be able to hear the world around them. A Bone Conduction headset naturally sits behind the ear, leaving it free from obstruction. This way the sound travels through the operative’s skull and into their inner ear, leaving their outer ear free to pick up nearby sound waves and stay alert of potential threats.
Technology companies like INVISIO have been hired to help create this technology and improve on it over time. It’s not unreasonable to assume that as this technology improves for solders, in time it could for consumers in other markets too.
Since the introduction of Bone Conduction technology into military operations, the military themselves have been keen to stress the importance of it, especially in regard to the benefits they feel it brings their troops. Not only does Bone Conduction technology allow what we’ve said above, but they believe it also prevents hearing loss among operatives and allows them to hear the sound being emitted more clearly.
It’s no wonder then that this technology soon made its way into other markets. We’ve discussed the safety benefits of Bone Conduction technology in other blogs, but if the military has sworn by this technology for those reasons too, then it leaves little doubt that the arguments in support of Bone Conduction technology being safer than previous audio technology were correct. If not, then why would they champion the technology and outfit their troops with it?
Bone Conduction Technology “This is for every one moment”
Unlike the internet there doesn’t seem to be a romanticized story about one engineer who saw the potential of Bone Conduction technology, then went against his masters because he wanted to introduce it to everyone outside of the military. But just because Bone Conduction technology doesn’t appear to have its own Sir Tim Berners-Lee, that doesn’t mean there wasn’t one, or several. Unfortunately, we just don’t know who they are. But behind closed doors, we’re almost certain Bone Conduction technology had its “This is for every one moment”. Perhaps one day that story will emerge, and we’ll know more.
Although as Bone Conduction technology was originally created to help those with hearing problems chances are this happened in reverse. Rather than Bone Conduction technology being something created and kept hold of by the military, it was created by civilians. Auditory engineers who sold the technology to the military but also allowed the innovation to be picked up by other markets. As this is exactly what happened, then it’s likely that, unlike the internet, the technology was never truly under lock and key. It was just waiting for some creative entrepreneurs to show the technology to the world.
Who Do We Thank for Bone Conduction Technology?
Let’s not forget that Bone Conduction technology has been around for a very long time. It’s unlikely to have been a secret to either the military, audio engineers or those who work in the music, technology and headphone business. Even Ludwig van Beethoven was said to use Bone Conduction in later life. As he got older the legendary composer sadly lost more of his hearing. To allow himself to feel the music’ instead of hearing it, Beethoven used to attach rods to his head which would also be connected to his piano. They didn’t call him a genius for nothing.
Keeping the above in mind, it’s worth pointing out that nobody owns a singular patent for this technology, it would be like owning the general patent for headphones themselves. In fact, numerous patents exist each offering their own take and spin on the technology. The patenting of Bone Conduction technology is another story and perhaps soon we’ll do a blog exploring that, for today suffice to say that the technology itself is used widely by a range of companies all operating in different industries.
What has become clear though is Bone Conduction technology is growing in popularity, we don’t expect it to beat the internet in terms of usage and usefulness, but we’re confident that it is the future of how we appreciate the sound. The military are always improving their own Bone Conduction devices, making them wireless, smaller and less obtrusive as time goes on, and we expect one day we’ll all feel the benefit of this.
We would like to make a bold prediction that one day, earbud technology and Bone Conduction technology will meet, creating a small product that can slide behind our ears and let us listen to all our favorite tracks and audiobooks. We also predict though that the military will discover this innovation first, then the race will be on to bring this incredible invention to everyone else. Perhaps Bone Conduction technology is still to have its “This Is For Everyone Moment”.
When it does just remember where you heard it first.