Yes. This is not a steam-punk montage. It is a real photo from an old military parade circa 1917, showing what’s probably the dumbest-looking military invention of all time. But what is it?
This is a listening apparatus for aeroplanes, and since back then nobody had a clue about radar, it was the only way to detect incoming enemy aircraft. How effective was it? Probably as effective as the aeroplanes back then: Not a lot.
Looking forward, the future of this technology was actually not that crazy. Sound ranging-which uses sound as a way to locate artillery pieces-started during World War I and continued into World War II, even with the advent of the radar.
Both the Brits and the US Army used sound ranging technology then, based on multiple microphones. Even after the radar – which was not able to locate artillery shells – established itself as one of the biggest leaps in modern warfare and civilian navigation, sound location continued way into the 20th Century, right up to the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
In fact, sound ranging technology is seeing a comeback these days, although using much more sophisticated equipment than these funny instruments. Audio detection is being used to automate radar operation, but also on its own. The British military used a new system-called Advanced Sound Ranging Project-during the Iraq war in 2003, locating enemy artillery as far as 50 kilometres away. The US Marines are adopting similar technologies, as well as the Germans and Ukrainians.