Electric Vehicles: The Invention of the Induction AC Motor by Nikola Tesla

The modern automobile is a complex invention with a long history of changes and innovations that have helped to make it what it is today. The average vehicle has a multitude of car parts that work together to both keep it running and provide a comfortable ride for the passenger. Today's car is also the brainchild of many different people who have contributed to its design and improvement. One of those people is an inventor and electrical engineering genius named Nikola Tesla. Among his many innovations is the AC induction motor, which is a critical auto part that is found in the modern electric car.

History of Nikola Tesla

Nikola Tesla was born on July 10, 1856 in what is known today as Croatia. In 1882 he started working for one of Thomas Edison's companies in France, and then moved to the United States in 1884, where he became a citizen in 1891. One of his first important accomplishments was the re-design of Thomas Edison's direct-current electric motors. Edison promised him $50,000 for the task but then reneged, saying his offer was a joke. Tesla resigned and formed his own company, Tesla Electric Light and Manufacturing. For the next several decades he built laboratories to conduct research on radio waves, x-rays and electricity, among other things. In addition he obtained over 270 patents around the world during his lifetime. These patents were mostly related to electricity-based technology. In his final years he lived in a hotel room paid for by Westinghouse Electric, where he died in 1943.

Contributions to Electrical Engineering

Tesla's inventions are numerous, and primarily pertain to manipulating electricity. In many cases his inventions were entirely new devices, while others improved on existing technology. These included improvements to dynamo engines and electric motors, and his more famous creations included the Tesla coil, which transmitted electricity in the open air. The Tesla coil, invented in 1891, included technology that is essential for wireless transmission of electricity. In 1943, four of Guglielmo Marconi's radio-related patents were invalidated by the Supreme Court in favor of prior inventions by Tesla. He also invented a remote controlled boat, experimented with X-rays, and made advancements in wireless transmission of energy, showing off his work by lighting electric lamps in New York city without the use of wires.

Tesla also made many advancements in the field of Alternating Current (AC) technology, which was a method of transmission of electricity that differed from the Direct Current (DC) technology that Thomas Edison had pioneered. AC currents enabled the transmission of electricity across longer distances than DC technology and the transmission was cheaper, as well. One of his most important AC-related inventions was the AC induction motor. This device, invented in 1887 and licensed to the Westinghouse company in 1888, works by creating mechanical power from electricity. It achieves this by using alternating electric currents to create a rotating magnetic field which turns its rotor. Compared to other systems such as the DC motor, the AC induction motor offered a number of advantages, including superior durability, lower maintenance costs, increased energy efficiency, and the fact that the rotor is its only moving part. AC induction motors became highly popular in industrial applications, and their invention was an important landmark in the Industrial Age. In addition, the modern three-phase version of the induction motor is one of the most critical electric car parts, alongside the car battery. An automobile that uses the AC induction motor has the additional advantage of being quieter than an automobile that uses an internal combustion engine.

How His Contributions Affect the Future of Driving

Electric cars are becoming increasingly popular due to the high cost of gasoline and the threat of pollution and global warming. In addition, electric cars depend on the induction motor for propulsion. Many electric and hybrid auto manufacturers rely on permanent or natural magnets to build electric engines. However, these depend on an element called neodymium, which is in increasingly short supply. As a result, car companies have begun to look at induction motors that use electromagnetism rather than permanent magnets. Nikola Tesla's electromagnetic induction motor has proven to be an inspiration for these efforts to replace gasoline-powered vehicles with more environmentally-friendly electric and hybrid cars.

  • The Power that Made Radio Realistic: The FCC explains the importance of Nikola Tesla's inventions, particularly the Tesla coil, to the invention of radio technology. Contributions by Guglielmo Marconi and Ernst Alexanderson are also covered.
  • Original Tesla Induction Motor, 1887-1888: Click here to see a picture of the first AC induction motor and a short description of the device.
  • Nikola Tesla's Remote-Control Boat, And Other Unpopular Inventions: Read about Tesla's wirelessly controlled boat in this article by Ars Technica. At the bottom of the page are more pictures that the reader can click and look at.
  • Tesla (1856): This is a page about Nikola Tesla for children to read. It includes his biography and a diagram of his electric dynamo machine patent.
  • Nikola Tesla: Visitors to the History Channel's Nikola Tesla page will find an in-depth look at his life. Subjects covered include his early years, his work with Thomas Edison and Westinghouse, and his role in the "War of the Currents."
  • About The Size Of A Watermelon, With A Lot More Juice: Tesla Motors explains the advantages of the AC induction motor over internal combustion engines in this article. In addition it talks about how the motor works.
  • Nikola Tesla's Revenge: This article points out the scarcity of neodymium, which is needed for making magnets in electric and hybrid cars, and how Nikola Tesla's AC induction motor offers companies a solution.
  • Nikola Tesla Timeline: Visit here to see a timeline of Nikola Tesla's life. Inventions, facts, and his biography can be found on other pages that are accessible via the menu to the left.
  • The Invention Of The Electric Motor 1856-1893: Click here for a page featuring a timeline of electric motor inventions and innovations. Tesla's induction motor is one of the subjects that it covers.
  • Tesla Life and Legacy - War of the Currents: This PBS biography site talks about Nicola Tesla's involvement in the competition between George Westinghouse and Thomas Edison over AC power versus DC power as an industrial standard.
  • History of Electricity in the United States: Click this link to read about the history of electrical power. It starts off with Edison's contributions and also makes note of inventions by Nikola Tesla that enabled longer-range transmission of electricity. It also explains how the AC induction motor helped boost the industrial age and how it brought about the invention of appliances like the washing machine.
  • Tesla: This is Clemson University's page about Nikola Tesla. It covers his early life and education, his invention of the AC induction motor and the Tesla coil, and his attempts to develop a means of wireless power transmission.
  • Nikola Tesla Biography: Tesla's life is the subject of this Rice University web page. His inventions, achievements, and personal life are all covered here. To the left of the text are links to other Tesla-related documents.
  • Omnipresence of Tesla's Work and Ideas (PDF): This PDF-based presentation outlines Tesla's contributions to society and science. It covers his visions of future technology and his inventions. Subjects covered include his research into wireless control systems, neuroimaging, and radio technology, as well as elements of his personal life.
  • Nikola Tesla in Strasburg, France, Where He Built the First Induction Motor: The Tesla Memorial Society of New York briefly describes Nikola Tesla's contributions to the industrial age on this Web page. The AC induction motor and the principle of its design are the primary topics of discussion.
  • Chronology Of Important Events In Tesla's Life: Click here to read a timeline of Nikola Tesla's life. Also included are a list of patents that he was granted.
  • Nikola Tesla: Chicago World's Fair: This brief article is about Nikola Tesla's AC generator technology which was put to use at the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. A picture of four of the actual generators is also included.
  • Lessons in Electric Circuits, Volume II - AC (PDF): Go here to read a PDF textbook on AC circuits in electrical engineering. Chapter 13 includes a section about the Tesla polyphase induction motor.
  • Electric Motor: This web page explains how an electric motor works. It discusses the differences between the Faraday DC motor and the Tesla AC induction motor. Also included are examples of devices and machines that run on electric motors.
  • The Day They Turned The Falls On: The Invention Of The Universal Electrical Power System: The role of Tesla's AC generators in the building of the Tesla-Westinghouse Niagara Falls Power Plant is the subject of this web page. It explains the importance of Tesla's inventions not only in making the power plant work, but in bringing about the second phase of the Industrial Revolution. The War of the Currents and the dominance of AC current technology is also discussed.
  • Tesla's AC Motor: This is a Web page about Tesla's induction motor. It includes a picture of the motor as well as a diagram of its major parts.
  • Super Scientists: Nikola Tesla: Click this link for a brief look at Nikola Tesla's life. There are also links to a biography and autobiography.
  • A Man of Comprehensive Solutions: The Tesla Wardenclyffe Project features a biography of Nikola Tesla on this Web page. His invention of the wireless boat and the AC induction motor and his research in other important fields related to electric power are the focus of this document.
  • Nikola Tesla (10 July 1856 - 7 January 1943): This web page is a biography of Nikola Tesla. His education and his career as an engineer are some of the topics it covers. It also covers his innovations in alternating current technology and the use of his name as the official scientific term for the measurement of magnetic flux density.
  • About Nikola Tesla: This page discusses Nikola Tesla's life and inventions, including the A.C. induction motor.

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