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From Swords to Ploughshares: British Army crowdsources civilian uses for their technology

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In 1942 a team of chemists at Eastman Kodak, headed by Dr Harry Coover, were toiling away in an effort to engineer an improved plastic gunsight for the Allied forces.  They began tinkering with cyanoacrylates and by happenstance developed a compound that when dried was transparent and strong. Only there was a catch: before it dried it stuck to everything it came in contact with – making it near impossible to handle.  They basically abandoned the project, and went looking elsewhere. 

Ten years later Coover, who by then was leading a motley crew working on jet engines, revisited his cyanoacrylate formula and realized its super-adhesion was only a “problem” to the unimaginative. From a different angle a new perspective came into focus, and he began to see its adhesive properties as a property to make use of. Kodak then repositioned that military project for gunsights to create one of the legendary (and peaceful) products of our century: SuperGlue. 

Each year militaries spend billions in the laboratory, developing products to give their forces an edge - representing by far some of the largest R&D expenditures globally. The British Ministry of Defence is no different, pouring enormous sums into developing cutting-edge technology to keep Her Majesty’s United Kingdom safe.  But oftentimes these innovations, while having a bonafide role on the battlefield may also (like cyanoacrylate) have peaceful applications here at home. Perhaps that laser for precision guided missiles can also work in smart cities?  Or that new alloy for lightweight airplanes could find a new use in racing bikes. 

Ploughshare Innovations, the technology commercialization arm of the of the UK’s Defence Science and Technology Lab (Dstl), believes their technologies hold significant promise outside hostile territories. 

But they need the public’s help. 

To that end, they’ve turned to Marblar to crowdsource non-military applications for an initial tranche of 4 cutting edge devices designed for offensive and defensive purposes on the battlefield – hoping that for $1,000 and the chance to pitch your idea to the Ministry of Defence someone in the Marblar community can find a great everyday use for their science.  

The first technology is a lateral flow device designed to protect soldiers from biological and chemical warfare by rapidly screening substances on a surface.  Since launching last week it has garnered nearly 40 market-ready ideas ranging from organic food QA, to genito-urinary health and use by municipal bomb squads. The ideas have come from over 15 different countries, and are showing significant hope for military technology lies in our everyday lives.  

Just use your marbles and beat Swords into Ploughshares at Marblar.com.  

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