Like us on Facebook
Follow us on Instagram
 

In 1898 Nikola Tesla tricked an entire crowd into believing they could control a boat by shouting commands – in fact he invented Radio Control and piloted the boat himself

Goran Blazeski

Nikola Tesla was born on 10 July 1856 and became one of the greatest inventors in the world. In his career, he developed induction motors, harnessed the power of alternating current, and even experimented with wireless power. He had an idea of wireless lighting and electricity distribution and made experiments on the subject in New York and Colorado Springs. He understood the possibility of wireless communication, performed early X-ray imaging, and also built a radio-controlled boat in 1898.

Tesla invented, predicted or contributed to the development of hundreds of technologies of the modern world. Some of them are the remote control, computers, smartphones, and robotics.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, moustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

Photograph of Nikola Tesla, a slender, mustachioed man with a thin face and pointed chin.

In the year 1898, at the Electrical Exhibition in the recently completed Madison Square Garden, Tesla made a demonstration that was hard to imagine was possible at that time. Everyone at the exhibition was excited and expected a surprise from Tesla, but no one could imagine a radio-controlled boat from the “Mad Scientist.” As Tesla explained: “the boat was equipped with a borrowed mind.”

The crowd that was present at the exhibition couldn’t find a rational explanation for how the boat was moving. They thought of it as magic or telepathy, and even they thought that it was piloted by a trained monkey that was hidden inside.

In 1898, Tesla demonstrated a radio-controlled boat (U.S. Patent 613,809 —Method of an Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vehicle or Vehicles).

In 1898, Tesla demonstrated a radio-controlled boat (U.S. Patent 613,809 —Method of an Apparatus for Controlling Mechanism of Moving Vehicle or Vehicles).

As Tesla himself claims “When first shown… it created a sensation such as no other invention of mine has ever produced.” Most of the crowd that was present at the exhibition didn’t know how to react. In fact, the crowd was so amazed by the invention that they didn’t know whether to laugh or run.

When Tesla saw the reaction of the crowd, he decided to trick them into believing that they could control the boat by shouting commands and also encouraged the crowd to ask questions of the boat. In response to the question “What is the cube root of 64?” lights on the boat flashed four times. While the crowd thought that Tesla was controlling the boat with his mind, he was sending signals to the mechanism using a small box with control levers on the side.

Second banquet meeting of the Institute of Radio Engineers, 23 April 1915. Tesla seen standing in the center.

Second banquet meeting of the Institute of Radio Engineers, 23 April 1915. Tesla can be seen standing in the center.

His invention, covered in patent No. 613,809 (1898), took the form of a radio-controlled boat: a heavy, low-lying, steel craft about four feet long. The method was not limited just to boats but included any sort of vehicles and mechanisms.

What Tesla invented in 1898 with his radio-controlled boat was the birth of robotics. His invention was far ahead of its time. The crowd that observed it at the exhibition could not imagine its practical applications.