Australia is about more than outrageously unique wildlife, barbies on the beach and playing the pokies. The nation also has a reputation for innovation, tech-readiness and ingenuity. In fact, you would be surprised to hear that some of the inventions we use and rely on from day to day can trace their genesis to The Land Down Under. Here are some of our favorite examples.
Arnot’s Electric Drill – 1880s
James Arnot was born in Scotland but travelled to Australia on a two-year engineering contract in his early 20s and decided to stay for life. An electrical engineer of some talent, he patented many gadgets in the late 1800s, including the first electric drill.
His device was designed as an aid for mining, to drill through rock. It was a lot heavier and more cumbersome than the slick rechargeable tools we use today, but beneath the surface, the basic technology for making holes is almost identical.
Warren’s black box – 1950s
Dr David Warren was a scientist employed at Melbourne Aeronautical Research Laboratory in the 1950s. 20 years earlier, his father had been among the fatalities on the Miss Hobart disaster, and that must have contributed to his decision to work as an air crash investigator. In 1953, he developed the first flight recorder, which would store the last instrument readings and voice recordings for up to an hour after a crash.
It took five more years of development and demos before the first real interest, when England’s Ministry of Aviation adopted his idea. Finally, in 1960, another air crash was the driver for a court order to fit black boxes in all Australian aircraft.
The first ultrasound – 1960s
That blurry picture from the 12-week scan is part of the parenting rite of passage these days. It’s all thanks to Aussie boffins David Robinson and George Kossoff from the Ultrasonic Research Group at the Sydney-based Commonwealth Acoustic Laboratories, who invented the world’s first ultrasound scanner.
The breakthrough changed pre-natal care forever, providing a window to the fetus without the risks associated with x-rays. Ultrasound is also to help diagnose medical conditions in various parts of the body.
All-electric 5-reel casino gaming by Aristocrat – 1970s
Aristocrat is one of the world leaders in pokies – or slot machines, as the rest of the world would say. The Sydney-based company has been manufacturing and supplying the machines for 70 years. Technology has seen a lot of changes to the way we play. For example, this list of minimum deposit casinos in Australia shows how popular and competitive the online casino business has become over the past decade.
But Aristocrat was innovating long before anyone mentioned the internet. In the 1970s, pokies were still the old one arm bandits and had barely changed since the 1940s. You can imagine the furore when Aristocrat released the first ever five-reel electronic slot machine in 1979. Called Wild West, it provided the model for thousands of other five reel games over subsequent decades.
John O’ Sullivan invents WiFi while searching for black holes – 1990s
Where would we be without WiFi? We use it every day without a single thought, often hopping from network to network automatically as we go from home to work to a coffee shop or even a supermarket. It was the brainchild of John O’Sullivan, a researcher at the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) in Canberra.
Like so many great inventions, this one was almost accidental. O’Sullivan’s actual line of research was in radio astronomy. He and his team had spent years developing technology to detect the faint echoes from black holes. WiFi was a fortunate result, and has delivered millions in royalties to the CSIRO through the patents they hold.
Google maps by Where 2 Tech – 2000s
Google has invented some great tools. Others it has bought in. Google Maps has become the go-to mapping app, but it was initially created by Where 2 Tech, a Sydney-based start up created by brothers Lars and Jens Rasmussen plus Neil Gordon and Stephen Ma.
The following year, Google took one look at the technology and made the four men an offer they could not refuse, acquiring the company for an undisclosed sum in what was only Google’s second ever acquisition.