Nikola Tesla’s Mechanical Men

Tesla boatIt’s mooted by Jon Turi at Engadget that Nikola Tesla, as ever ahead of his time, designed the first military drone, although he’s quoted as saying himself, “You do not see there a wireless torpedo; you see there the first of a race of robots, mechanical men which will do the laborious work of the human race”:

…Tesla once said, “The world moves slowly, and new truths are difficult to see.” It was his way of responding to the crowd’s stunned disbelief upon viewing his scientific wizardry at New York’s Madison Square Garden in 1898. Using a small, radio-transmitting control box, he was able to maneuver a tiny ship about a pool of water and even flash its running lights on and off, all without any visible connection between the boat and controller. Indeed few people at the time were aware that radio waves even existed and Tesla, an inventor often known to electrify the crowd with his creations, was pushing the boundaries yet again, with his remote-controlled vessel.

Tesla’s presentation, which was part of an Electrical Exhibition, was decried as magic by some, but it’s unsurprising that others would focus on its potential as a weapon. It wouldn’t be the first time that well-known inventors had made a foray into war devices. Thomas Edison had been involved in the Sims-Edison Electrical Torpedo Company and in 1892 demonstrated the merits of its wire-guided torpedo. This 31-foot-long device was powered and controlled through a hardwired tether and manipulated by a remote on-shore operator, with the goal of harbor defense by delivering an explosive payload into invading vessels. A few months prior to Tesla’s radio-controlled presentation, W.J. Clarke, general manager of the US Electrical Supply Company, made use of radio waves for yet another warlike implementation. He proceeded to blow up toy ships by wirelessly detonating floating mines with radio waves, cribbing the basic design for his machine from Italian inventor Gueglielmo Marconi.

When Tesla unveiled his own invention at the 1898 exhibition, the display consisted of an indoor pool, a 4-foot-long miniature ship and a control box equipped with various levers…

[continues at at Engadget]


Majestic is gadfly emeritus.

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3 Comments on "Nikola Tesla’s Mechanical Men"

  1. Simon Valentine | Jan 21, 2014 at 11:29 am |

    we see no reason for delimitation of discipline save for criminal activity, not all of which is with reason, and none of which is within reason. god damn the torpedoes.

    • Jonas Planck | Jan 21, 2014 at 2:16 pm |

      It is perhaps inevitable that any technology invented by Man be used as a weapon of war. It’s telling that the remote detonation went on display first, before more complicated uses were demonstrated. Why not a simple light, buzzer, or rotary fan? Well, that wouldn’t cause investors to instantly line up with huge bags of money, now would it? Marconi played the mamba (listen to the radio), but don’t you remember? We bombed this city with rock and roll.

      • Simon Valentine | Jan 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm |

        for ages said, perhaps like rust, another issue not solved
        for it itself who would line up, if not those who would also fall?
        what then for that technology
        so ancient and so future
        what then for law’s mythology
        if not one who knows how others shall suit their self
        whether species, program, or otherwise

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