R&D nation: 6 game-changing Australian inventions

Key points at a glance

  • Proving that R&D is in our DNA, Australia has produced generations of innovative thinkers, tinkerers and builders.
  • Everyday items with surprising Australian roots include Google Maps, the notepad, and the power board.
  • Small businesses and startups looking to create the next great Aussie invention can leverage the R&D Tax Incentive for extra funding.

Inventions that prove Australia’s already an innovation nation

Australia has a long and proud history of invention. Several of these breakthroughs, such as the polymer bank note, the drill, ‘black box’ flight recorders, clotheslines and WiFi have become part of the country’s common lore.

But that’s just the tip of the invention iceberg. A whole host of other gadgets and innovations have also been conceived and delivered on the shores of the lucky country – some of which we rely upon every day.

To celebrate the island nation’s inventiveness, we’ve rounded up a shortlist of six innovations you might not realise were developed at in our home nation:

1. Google Maps

Before apps like Uber and Deliveroo leveraged mapping technologies on smartphones, there was Google Maps. And before Google Maps, there was the Sydney-based startup Where 2 Technologies. Acquired by Google in 2004 (the search giant’s second-ever acquisition), Where 2’s original project was a mapping application called Expedition. Its new owners, however, ‘liked the web’a, so the four-person team set about making their maps viewable in web browsers. The rest is history.

2. Fibrous plaster

Decorative plaster ceilings were all the rage at the turn of the 20th century, with moulds resembling geometric shapes, fern leaves, birds, or even ‘scantily clad maidens’b. Looking to create a superior form of plaster to cater to this trend, Sydneysider George Taylor developed a new and improved fibrous plaster by infusing the material with ‘bagasse’ – the leftover materials from sugarcane processing. The resulting plaster was light, tough, crack-proof and cheap.

3. Inflatable aircraft escape slide

Here’s one Aussie invention you hope you’ll never have to use – but you’re glad it’s there. In 1965, Qantas employee Jack Grant devised an inflatable escape slide that could then double as a life raft for water landingsc. The invention is widely used for aircraft around the world to this day.

4. The paper notepad

The humble notepad is a Tasmanian creation. In 1902, Launceston-based J.A. Birchalld had the brainwave to gather cut sheets of paper – until then always sold loose – back them with cardboard, and bind them together at the top. The result? The ‘Silver City Writing Tablet’ - the world’s first notepad.

5. Permaculture

One of Australia’s more interesting inventions isn’t an object or product, but rather an environmental movement that’s still being taught around the globe. In the 1970s, New South Welshman David Holmgren and Tasmanian Bill Mollison coined the concept of ‘permaculture’e, a system of sustainable community living that seeks to provide year-round food, reduce waste, and preserve water.

6. The multi-plug power board

Few inventions were as invaluable to the coming digital age as the multi-plug power board. Developed in 1972 at Australian appliances manufacturer Kambrook, the innovation was born of frustrationf – Kambrook founder Frank Bannigan was himself frustrated at the lack of enough power sockets for his own devices.

Future Aussie inventions?

For companies looking to create the next great Australian invention, financial assistance is available for a range of eligible R&D activities. Visit Nifty Grants for more information.

*image courtesy of Google Maps

(a) https://medium.com/@lewgus/the-untold-story-about-the-founding-of-google-maps-e4a5430aec92#.ycem774gi
(b) http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/stories/george-taylors-improved-fibrous-plaster
(c) http://www.australiangeographic.com.au/topics/history-culture/2010/06/australian-inventions-that-changed-the-world/
(d) http://www.birchalls.com.au/index.php/about-us-mainmenu-133/our-history-mainmenu-41
(e) http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/28/garden/permaculture-emerges-from-the-underground.html
(f) http://www.kambrook.com.au/history