Nikola Tesla was, without a doubt, one of the greatest inventors in history. Born in 1856 to a Serbian family, Tesla had always been ahead of his time. He graduated school a year early, excelled in the university where he studied electrical engineering however did not receive the degree.
Throughout his entire career, Tesla was granted nearly 300 patents from 26 different nation, most of which are from the United States, Canada, and Great Britain. While many of us know him as the futuristic inventor who played a pivotal role in the development of Alternating Current along with advances in the radio and motors, he also proposed some of the most bizarre ideas that separate him from other inventors.
Below, we have compiled a list of Tesla inventions that are still affecting our lives along with those which were never materialized.
12. Bladeless Turbine
A bladeless turbine at Tesla Museum, Serbia | Image Courtesy: Stanislav Kozlovskiy
Patented In: 1913
In 1906, at the age of 50, Tesla demonstrated a bladeless turbine generating 200 horsepower or 149.2 kilowatts at 16,000 rpm. A bladeless turbine, as the name implies, doesn’t feature any blade instead, it consists of a number of smooth, closely packed plates attached to a shaft.
The fluid is inserted from an opening, which is usually located on the top edge of the turbine. With the only exit located at the center, fluid makes a spiral path before exiting the turbine. This creates thrust to make the disks turn.
Although bladeless turbines have been in use since the early 1980s, it never became a popular or commercial success. Today, such turbines are utilized mainly in cases where steam or compressed air is used as a power source (turbocharger in cars).
11. Remote Controlled Boat
Tesla’s radio controlled boat
Proposed In: 1907
In 1898, during an electric exhibition, Tesla demonstrated a (small) radio controlled vessel, which he was able to maneuver over a pool of water. While doing so, he entertained the audience by making it look like the boat is obeying voice commands from spectators, but in reality, he was controlling the boat using radio frequencies. He named it “telautomatics.”
For many of those who were present there that day, it was a moment of pure magic. Few, on the other hand, saw it as a potential war machine. Tesla received a U.S patent for this on July 1, 1989.
10. Artificial Tidal Waves
As an engineer and an inventor, Tesla strongly believed that science can be a great tool against war and can be effectively used to prevent them. He spent a considerable amount of time formulating new and powerful weapons that could have been in use today, had they worked.
Building on his radio controlled boat, Tesla started an ambitious project called Artificial Tidal Wave, which Tesla believed would destroy enemy navies without firing a single shot. In order to achieve this, Tesla proposed a wirelessly controlled vessel that would guide a substantial amount of high explosive material underneath enemy vessels and detonate it.
Tesla estimated that such an explosion should trigger tidal waves as high as 100 feet over an area of 1-mile from the initial blast source. This kind of violent waves would have been enough to sink any large ship at that time.
During the Cold War, both, the United States and the Soviet Union put Tesla’s theory to test by performing a series of nuclear explosions in the Pacific. The results, unfortunately, were not what Tesla had envisioned.
9. Tesla’s Oscillator
Tesla’s electro-mechanical oscillator for which he received a patent in 1893
Patented In: 1893
In the year 1893, Tesla was granted a patent for his steam-powered electricity generator which he thought would be a possible replacement to reciprocating steam engines. It works by injecting the steam into the generator and ejecting it from multiple ports, which causes the piston to propel up and down. This movement produces vibrations at a high speed which in turn produce electricity.
Tesla, sometime later in his life, claimed that the New York earthquake in 1898 was caused by a version of this device. It was only after this incident that the oscillator was popularized as Tesla’s Earthquake machine.
According to Tesla, he was once working on a smaller version of the mechanical oscillator at his Houston Street laboratory. The oscillator was just 7 inches long and two pounds at most. It was something that “you could put in your pocket”.
8. Tesla Coil
Tesla Coil | Image Courtesy: Marco Grünewald/Wikipedia
Patented In: 1891
Throughout the late 1890s and early 1900s, Tesla experimented with various ideas in which he explored possible ways to transmit electricity wirelessly. A system that could do that was the Tesla Coil, which is without a doubt is one of his remarkable inventions.
Tesla coil, basically, is an electrical circuit which produces high-frequency alternating current. It consists of two parts; primary and secondary coil, both of which have their own capacitors. A spark gap (an air-gap between two conductors) connects the two coils and their capacitors.
An external power source is connected to the primary coil, whose capacitor soaks up the initial charge. Eventually, the huge amount of energy causes it to break the air resistance in the spark gap and ultimately transfers electric current in the secondary coil.
The cycle is repeated with the capacitor on the secondary coil and when the charge is too high it bursts into the air producing lightning bolts. One such coil can have output voltages somewhere from 50,000 volts to several million volts.
Today, Tesla Coils are mostly found in museums and doesn’t have much practical use rather than scientific testing. They were once used commercially in radio transmitters and in few medical equipment like violet ray devices and electrotherapy. Small versions of Tesla Coils are, however, used to detect leaks in high vacuum systems.
7. Magnifying Transmitter
Nikola Tesla sitting next to his magnifying transmitter Image Courtesy: Wellcome Collection
The magnifying transmitter is basically an advanced version of Tesla coil, which he intended to use in wireless transmission of electrical energy over long distances. It all came down in 1899 when Tesla claimed that he made a groundbreaking discovery of ‘terrestrial stationary waves’, which could allow Earth to be used as a conductor and resonate at a particular frequency.
The magnifying transmitter, instead of discharging the electricity, is designed to generate standing waves using the natural resonance circuit of the Earth which could be utilized at a distance by a receiving circuit. In addition to two large coils, magnifying transmitter features a third or extra coil, which operates as a resonator.
Tesla even reported that he was able to power a field of bulbs located at 1 km from the magnifying transmitter and created lightning flashes as long as 40 meters.
6. Wardenclyffe Tower
Tesla’ Wardenclyffe plant in 1904
The initial success of the magnifying transmitter allowed Tesla to plan for something much more significant. In March 1901, he received an investment of around $150,000 from financier and banker J.P Morgan to establish the Wardenclyfee Tower, a system or infrastructure which could transmit electricity over long distances.
Tesla, at that time, was locked in a fierce battle against Guglielmo Marconi, who already had some success in long-distance radio transmissions. To compete with Marconi’s radio-based system, Tesla sought more funding from J.P Morgan, but this time he was denied.
By the end of the year 1901, Marconi successfully executed the first-ever trans-Atlantic radio transmission, marking Tesla’s defeat. The Wardenclyfee Tower facility never became operational and was abandoned in 1906 after Tesla couldn’t secure any further funds.
5. Supersonic Airship Powered By Ground Based Towers
An artist’s conception of Tesla’s ground-based towers controlling supersonic airships
From home electronics and television sets to military drones, we control a great many things wirelessly. But if it was up to Tesla, we would have remote controlled supersonic airships.
In 1919, Tesla publicly announced his idea for a supersonic airship that could fly 8 miles or 40,000 feet about the ground and make a trans-Atlantic journey from New York to London in little over three hours. But the best thing about this aircraft is that it was to be powered by wireless electricity transmitted from ground-based towers.
The idea behind such aircraft is to virtually eliminate the use of airplanes to carry fuels on board. According to Tesla, multiple power plants can be built to provide virtually unlimited energy to airplanes, similar to how electricity is now supplied to trains over thousands of kilometers through wires.
4. Teleforce Or “Death Beam”
Another one of his military ventures came in the form of ‘Death Beam’ or what he used to call Teleforce. On 11, July 1934, newspapers announced Tesla’s new proposed weapon which would first accelerate mercury pellets to high velocity (via electrostatic repulsion) and then shoot beams of particles at intended targets.
He described that his Death Beam “will bring down a fleet of 10,000 enemy airplanes at a distance of 200 miles and will cause armies to drop dead in their tracks.” According to Tesla, the idea of such a weapon came after studying the Van de Graaff generator.
These newspapers nicknamed it the death ray or “peace ray” analogous to other theoretical particle beam weapons. Tesla was, however, quick to point out that his machine does not fall in the category of so-called ‘death rays’.
3. The Thought Camera
An artist’s impression of Tesla’s thought camera
The human thought process, as complex as it sounds, is important to interpret, make sense of things and even predict future events. It is still haven’t been properly understood by researchers. But Tesla, in one of the most extraordinary ideas, assumed that it would be feasible to photograph and record them.
Back in 1933, at his birthday party, Tesla told reporters that image formed (in the brain) during a thought could be mirrored on the human retina through reflex action. This retinal image can then be photographed by an instrument to be projected (like a slideshow) onto a viewing screen.
Now if it’s indeed true, these images can possibly be retrieved by an appropriate device. “In this way, every thought of an individual could be read and our minds would then be like open books.”
Well, it is evident that the human thought process doesn’t work in that manner, even though we don’t know much about it. But again, we cannot rule out that Tesla was completely wrong here.
2. Induction Motor
An induction motor model with short circuit rotor at Nikola Tesla Museum, Serbia | Image Courtesy: Wikimedia
Patented In: 1887
The credit for inventing the first ever induction motor goes to both Nikola Tesla and Italian physicist Galileo Ferraris. It was Ferraris who demonstrated a working model of a three-phase induction motor in 1885, two years before Tesla. However, Tesla was first to file and receive patents (U.S) for it.
In an induction motor, the current in the rotor which is needed to generate torque is gained not from electrical connections but electromagnetic induction from the magnetic field of its stator winding.
The induction motor is perhaps the most common type of motor used in residential and commercial establishments. Three-phase induction motors are usually preferred in industrial areas due to its cost-effectiveness and reliability. Smaller load appliances, which are used in residential areas use single-phase induction motors (ceiling fans).
1. The Alternating Current
Tesla demonstrating wireless transmission of electricity at Columbia College in 1891
Make no mistake, Tesla neither invented the alternating current nor did he first used it in a practical demonstration, but he played an instrumental role in popularizing AC power over its competitor.
The origin of Alternating Current can be traced back to 1832, when Hippolyte Pixii, a French engineer, developed the first-ever dynamoelectric generator based on Faraday’s principles.
Then it was Guillaume Duchenne, who successfully demonstrated the practical use of AC current in electrotherapy in 1855. Works of Sebastian Ferranti, Galileo Ferraris, and Lucien Gaulard contributed towards the further development of this technology.
Tesla’s contribution to the alternating current came in the late 1880s when his induction motor was integrated into the AC systems produced by George Westinghouse’s company in order to compete with Thomas Edison’s low voltage Direct Current. Unlike DC, Alternate systems allow electricity to transit over long distances efficiently.