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Reviving Nikola Tesla

By Shlomo Maital

Nikola Tesla

Thanks to Elon Musk and his Tesla electric cars, the genius inventor Nikola Tesla and his achievements have been revived.

           Tesla was born and raised in what is now Serbia, in the Austro-Hungarian empire. He was trained as an engineer. After migrating to the US, he worked for a time with Thomas Edison. However, they had an argument. Tesla believes that the future of electricity lay in alternating current. Edison was committed to direct current.

             Tesla left Edison’s shop and went to work for George Westinghouse. There, with Westinghouse, Tesla built an alternating-current electric motor, whose design we employ to this day. It was vastly better than direct-current motors. It did not need powerful permanent magnets.   The AC motor formed the basis of the Second Industrial Revolution.

             Tesla invented many other things. He invented the “logic gate” which became the foundation for semiconductors. He built a robotic drone (“teleautomaton”, he called it). He tried to find how to transmit electricity wirelessly – we’re still trying to do that.

               But Tesla died poor, in New York City, in 1943.   He was never able to truly partner with industrial giants who had the money to finance his inventions. Edison, in contrast, was a genius at doing that, and got J.P. Morgan, the banker, to fund his initial electricity company. (Edison was smart enough to ‘electrify’ Wall St first, and J.P. Morgan’s home).  

               Today we follow Tesla, not Edison. We use AC current, not DC.  

                 There is a lesson here.   In order for creative ideas to be actuated, you need resources. That means, you have to communicate your idea to those who can best help implement it, and then work with them, with empathy. Tesla failed at this. But his ideas did change the world. And so are Munk’s Tesla cars. Thanks, Elon, for helping us remember this genius inventor.

Cool Idea?  What ELSE Can You Do With It?

By Shlomo Maital

Elon Musk Tesla battery factory

  In my previous blog, I wrote about how entrepreneur John Osher invented a lollipop that spins in your mouth, created a huge hit, and then, tireless, asked, what else can I do with a cheap tiny electric motor that spins things?  His answer was: an inexpensive electric toothbrush.  Result: a half billion dollar (acquisition by P&G).

  Here is another example.  Elon Musk succeeded against all odds in building and selling Tesla electric cars.  His cars are cool, beautiful, fast, expensive, green and in demand.  They are not hybrids.  They run solely on electric power.  The core technology is the rechargeable electric car battery. 

  Like Osher, Musk asked, what else can I do with what I know about batteries that store electricity?  Answer – build batteries that can store solar power, so that at night, when the sun doesn’t shine,  you can still have power.  Storage is a crucial element to the success of solar power, because people consume electricity not only in daylight but also at night.  And so far, the storage element is missing. 

   According to Diane Cardwell, (New York Times, Sunday May 2-3), Tesla Motors is initiating a “fleet of battery systems aimed at homeowners, businesses and utilities”.  One of the products will be a lithium ion rechargeable battery pack, four feet by three feet,  that can be mounted on a home garage wall.  The battery will be called the Powerwall, and will sell for $3,500.  It was derived from the car batteries that power the Model S vehicles.

   The proposed batteries will be connected to the Internet and can be managed by Tesla from afar. 

    The key to this idea?  Tesla is building a $5 billion battery production plant, called the Gigafactory, in Reno, Nevada. (See photo). 

     This story reminds me of the 9-word capsule description of successful entrepreneurship.   First to imagine.  (Musk did).  First to move. (Musk did).  And first to scale. (Musk is).    And, add to that – first to platform (take one good product and transform it into another). 

Blog entries written by Prof. Shlomo Maital

Shlomo Maital