The Forgotten Father of the Future: Nikola Tesla

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In the 1880s, while working at Edison Company on the improvement of the designs of direct current motors and generators, Nikola Tesla realized that the DC transmission was very far from a perfect source of power transmission.

“The more I worked on DC the more I realized that direct current is not perfect at all. So, I started to design my own concept of a motor that would be able to produce a new type of current called the alternating current.”

And this was just the beginning of the revolution that Tesla brought about into the present world.

One of the greatest inventors of all time, Nikola Tesla visualized all of his inventions to profound accuracy in his mind before he turned to experimentation.

“Only after designing it completely in my mind would I test it in the laboratory.”

Tesla is the father of many modern electrical and mechanical devices and most of his designs are still in use today. Alternating current is one of his most influential discoveries but it’s not the only one. The list of his creations that changed the face of the world is inexhaustive.

Thomas Edison’s direct current brought electricity into the daily lives of the people. It also gave birth to the industrial revolution in America. But Edison’s direct current sparked and could not be transmitted to long distances because of huge power-losses which was a major drawback. For direct current transmission, the use of thick transmission lines and setting up of power stations at every kilometer was necessary. While Edison insisted that Tesla should work on direct current,  he had a superior plan for electricity transmission that was far better than Edison’s ideas. After completing Edison’s work and being betrayed by him, Tesla started the war of currents against him.

He was devasted at the time and did small jobs to make both ends meet. Tesla explains this time of his life to be the most difficult, as he earned small money by digging ditches. But with the help of entrepreneurs who were interested in electricity, he soon managed to get himself a laboratory. He designed and developed the alternating current technology including AC generators, motors, and transformers.

I believed that alternating current was the future although to others at my time, the idea seemed absurd.”

This technology had several advantages over DC as it could be transmitted to large distances without much power-loss, used thinner wires and could transmit higher voltages. Tesla’s alternating current won over direct current and today we owe our electricity systems to Tesla.  

Tesla had invented the radio 5 years before Marconi. He was also the first person to design the hydroelectricity turbines. His inventions also included a radio-controlled boat which people thought worked by magic. Some people also believed that Tesla was hiding a trained monkey inside the boat that steered it. But Tesla was a man of future and he believed in the service of humanity.

“The present is theirs, the future for which I’ve worked is mine.”

His more futuristic ideas included the “earthquake machine” that worked on the phenomenon of frequency matching and resonance, the electric motor engine that would replace the ignition engines of the automobiles, and the Tesla tower that sourced wireless electricity transmission.

While Tesla was experimenting with alternating current, he lighted up bulbs in his hands using changing magnetic fields, wirelessly. Later on, one of his friends called him to Colorado Springs in a conference about the production of electricity from lightning. He realized that Earth was such a good conductor that when lightning struck the ground, it produced very strong waves that traveled all across the earth without much power loss. If this was so, then Tesla could transmit electric signals to large distances wirelessly. Tesla got the investment for his laboratory at Colorado Springs and started his work for the first lightning to be produced by man, ever.

Tesla set up a large powerful coil and a huge tower with a copper sphere on the top to produce a lightning-like current that sent electromagnetic waves to the 200 lightbulbs that he had planted in the ground 5 miles around his facility. All the light bulbs glowed and Tesla triumphed. But his experiment brought down all the power-stations of that area and costed him most of his fortune. He returned to New York and kept up his work. He had a firm belief in his ideas but his fate didn’t let him realize them. His lab burnt down with 10 years of his work. Later on, the investor he had captured by lying to him that he will work on radio, lost his interest in Tesla’s work when he realized that he was not doing what he was supposed to. Tesla’s wireless energy transmission could not become a reality.

Tesla sitting beside the huge coil in Colorado Springs Laboratory

Talking about the future, Tesla predicted a worldwide wireless network for sharing information, two-way-radio-communication devices, electronic calculating devices that could fit in a briefcase, cars with Tesla-designed electric engines and the artificial intelligence that would both help humanity and will manipulate it when weaponized. All these advancements are a part of our world today. Surprisingly absurd to hear about them from a man in 1901, isn’t it?

“The future begins right now.”

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