Sometimes even the most far-fetched ideas engineered by forward-looking inventors can lead to disruptive innovation. An example? Inventor and futurist Nikola Tesla and his contributions to alternating current (AC) technology, an innovation that spearheaded the adoption of electricity around the world. Although much of Tesla’s work remained obscure at the time of his death, his wide array of inventions and relentless curiosity have left an indelible mark on today’s world.

AC vs DC

Born in a small village in the Austrian Empire (modern-day Croatia), Tesla took a keen interest in engineering and mathematics from an early age.  Following his studies, he immigrated to the US and began working for famed American inventor Thomas Edison in the 1880s, redesigning the company’s direct current (DC) generators. One year later, Tesla left Edison’s company to develop his own AC technology, sparking a legendary rivalry between the two inventors.

What followed would revolutionize power technology. In just two years, Tesla received more than 30 patents for his inventions, including an induction motor that ran on AC. American entrepreneur George Westinghouse was so impressed by this invention that he asked Tesla to help him develop a system built on AC technology that could rival Edison’s DC system. Alongside Westinghouse, Tesla developed a sophisticated AC power system, which would go on to become the standard in household appliances and industries.

Visions of the future

Tesla may have helped to forever change the way the world generates electricity but his work on AC technology is only one of his many inventions!

Over his lifetime, Tesla developed critical technologies behind remote controls, radios and even wireless communications. In 1901, he hypothesized the idea behind today’s smartphone technology by describing a way to instantly transmit information between two individuals to famed businessman JP Morgan. Eccentric and at times unstable, Tesla was also a futurist, whose vision of a technology-centric future was downright prophetic. Case in point: he envisioned the rise of robots and “thinking machines,” which were developed not long after his death!