Tesla’s Wireless Predictions

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

According to a recent Telegraph headline, Nikola Tesla predicted the Blackberry a century ago — which is really missing the point, if you look back at the original Popular Mechanics piece, which itself cites the New York Times:

The attention of the world has been caught and held by the wireless telegraph, and yet this is a very primitive use of the art. So far only electric waves have been used, which have been quickly damped out in their passage through the air. It is possible, however, to transmit electric currents of enormous power for thousands of miles without diminishing their energy. This is not a theory, but a truth established by many practical experiments. It will soon be possible to transmit wireless messages all over the world so simply that any individual can carry and operate his own apparatus. The wireless transmission of power across the ocean, for instance, obviously opens up an entirely new era in mechanical developments.

It will soon be possible, for instance, for a business man in New York to dictate instructions and have them appear instantly in type in London or elsewhere. He will be able to call up from his desk and talk with any telephone subscriber in the world. It will only be necessary to carry an inexpensive instrument not bigger than a watch, which will enable its bearer to hear anywhere on sea or land for distances of thousands of miles. One may listen r transmit speech or song to the uttermost parts of the world. In the same way any kind of picture, drawing, or print can be transferred from on place to another. It will be possible to operate millions of such instruments from a single station. Thus it will be a simple matter to keep the uttermost parts of the world in instant tough with each other. The song of a great singer, the speech of a political leader, the sermon of a great divine, the lecture of a man of science may thus be delivered to an audience scattered all over the world.

More important than this, however, will be the transmission of power without wires over great distances. I have been experimenting with a model of a boat operated by electric power transmitted without wires, and the results are astounding. It is possible, I find, to control the movements of the boat absolutely from a central station without electrical connections of any kind. What has been done with a little boat on a small body of water will eventually be done by the largest liners at any distance from land. In other words, an ocean liner may be propelled across the Atlantic ocean at high speed by power directed from a wireless station on shore. We may confidently expect that within a few years many wonder now not dreamed of will be mere commonplace.

The mobile radio telephone Tesla envisions sounds like a simple, but powerful, radio transceiver — only impossibly small with the pre-transistor technology of Tesla’s day. In fact, the whole idea is not particularly practical with today’s technology either, until you introduce a cellular network, and most of what characterizes a Blackberry isn’t the radio so much as the miniature computer — a technology Tesla did not predict.

Instead, he predicted wireless power transmission. It turns out that it’s much, much easier to transmit information over the ether than significant amounts of usable energy.


  1. Buckethead says:

    I’m surprised that Tesla’s power transmission tech hasn’t been used at all, really, in the past. Granted, large scale use seems ruled out by inverse square effects — but you’d think a use could have been found for smaller scale uses like construction sites (power tools) or in the home, for mobile devices.

    Maybe there are other drawbacks I’m unaware of.

  2. Johnny Abacus says:

    Apparently, there is relatively widespread use of induction cooktops in Asia; that’s the most significant use of wireless power transmission I know of.

  3. Buckethead says:

    There are also inductive chargers for some mobile devices — but you need adapters, or special batteries, and then leave them on a mat to charge. I think this is more a magnetic thing than beamed power à la Tesla.

  4. Becky says:

    Induction cooking has been around for a little while, but seems to be slow gaining ground in the US. I think the units have been more expensive than gas/electric to purchase. You typically don’t see them in kitchen showrooms (at least in MI) either; one of the owners of a local kitchen equipment store said demand and interest was very low and that was before the recession.

    According to one manufacturer at the KBIS show a few years ago, most cookware is now constructed to be used on either gas/electric or induction cooktops (have to have flat bottoms) in anticipation that demand will increase. I’ve heard it is also more common in Europe.

Leave a Reply