Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla, Brilliant engineer and inventor of the “Death Ray”?

Born in Croatia, 1856, Tesla was to become a massive influence in the area of electrical engineering.

After school and university, Tesla went to work for the Budapest Telephone company, where he helped redesign a lot of the transmission equipment, making amplifiers and repeaters which gave improved audio over the phone lines. Although he had over 250 patents to his name, this work at the telephone exchange was never registered, as he liked to keep his ideas stored in his head rather than on paper.

AC Power  He moved to the USA and worked for the big electrical company Westinghouse. He went about redesigning their DC (Direct Current) generators to Alternating Current machines.  This was to have one of the biggest effects on the way we live today. Using alternating current, power can be easily sent for miles. His work on high voltage equipment such as transformers and alternating generators (as we have today) set the path for modern power stations and the National Grid.

Radio  He worked heavily on radio and, although we all think of Marconi as the inventor of radio, in fact, a lot of Marconi’s work was taken from Tesla’s patents and tested in court. Tesla won. In 1898 Tesla gave a demonstration of the first radio controlled boat! Onlookers were sceptical and had the boat removed from the water to see if there was a monkey inside following commands.

X-Ray  After reading of Rontgen’s discovery of X-Rays, Tesla went about designing an X-Ray tube to generate a powerful stream of rays. His work with high voltage transformers helped no end. Tesla noted that when playing around with his new high powered toys, there were some draw backs. He found that prolonged exposure of rays when imaging the body for example, caused skin to burn and damage to internal bodily organs. He also noted that sometimes when standing near to his X-ray tube, he felt a stinging sensation.  This started him thinking of his next idea!

Death Ray  This is the one I like. Again, falling back on his research on high voltage coils, Tesla came up with a design for the first real “Death ray”. He devised that high energy coils could propel a minute stream of charged Tungsten particles over 200 miles, bringing down enemy aircraft etc. He tried to sell the idea to the UK and USSR. The theory was good, but with immense power needed to power a hypothetical machine and the lack of written down plans, it never happened, so it’s said. Some people thought it was war profiteering and a stunt to raise his profile. Nevertheless, it lead, supposedly, to his labs and rooms being raided by the US Military.

Tesla died in 1943 at the age of 86, alone in the New Yorker Hotel where he had lived for several years. He preferred living in hotels as opposed to owning houses.  Slightly an unsung hero I think, but a genius.

The Death Ray idea reminded me of the company in the UK that is developing a high energy radio transmitter whose purpose in life will be to stop vehicles from a distance. Great fun. You see, the cops would point the antenna at the fleeing car and at the push of a button, the radio beam would scramble the car’s engine management computer, causing it to stop. It does actually work. A few refinements are needed. At the moment, it’s the size of a phone box, so awkward for the traffic cops to carry around. As I understand, it’s not Pacemaker friendly. If you have one fitted and you get in the way of the beam, you are turned into, for a short period of time, the Incredible Hulk.

There is a business opportunity here. Cars of the ‘60s and ‘70s never had engines controlled by computers. So, buy up the remaining stocks of these cars and sell them to criminal gangs who will then be able to escape unstopped by the Ray. I’m in the market for Cortinas and Mk 2 Jags by the way.

Seth Pittham

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