By: Richard Gunderman, Indiana University

Nikola TeslaMatch the following figures – Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison, Guglielmo Marconi, Alfred Nobel and Nikola Tesla – with these biographical facts:

1. Spoke eight languages

2. Produced the first motor that ran on AC current

3. Developed the underlying technology for wireless communication over long distances

4. Held approximately 300 patents

5. Claimed to have developed a “superweapon” that would end all war

The match for each, of course, is Tesla. Surprised? Most people have heard his name, but few know much about his place in modern science and technology.

The 75th anniversary of Tesla’s death on Jan. 7 provides a timely opportunity to review the life of a man who came from nowhere yet became world famous; claimed to be devoted solely to discovery but relished the role of a showman; attracted the attention of many women but never married; and generated ideas that transformed daily life and created multiple fortunes but died nearly penniless.


The electric vehicle market continues to build momentum every year, with consumers around the world growing more interested. But in order for EVs to pave the way for the future of transportation, more efficient, longer-lasting batteries will need to be developed.

That’s where ECS member Jeff Dahn, leader of Tesla’s researcher partnership through his Dalhousie University research group, comes in. Recently, Dahn and his team unveiled new chemistry that could increase battery lifecycle at high voltages without significant degradation.


Last week, EV superpower Tesla announced its latest product: roof tiles with built-in solar cells. By merging technological performance with aesthetics, Tesla hopes to offer consumers solutions to make their homes more energy self-sufficient.

Using PV roofing material instead of traditional rooftop solar panels helps the company consolidate costs. According to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, there are between four and five million new roofs constructed in the United States each year, which gives him a broad market.

Musk says that the roof tiles have the potential to integrate with Tesla’s Powerwall battery as well as the company’s electric cars, providing customers new, interconnected energy experiences. The CEO claims that roofs made from the new solar material would last up to three times as long as a typical 20-year-cycle roof and be more impact resistant.

However, critics of Tesla’s latest move highlight potential issues related to many different factors, including: location, energy storage capabilities, the practicality and cost of replacing a roof, and the difficulty in integrating PV technology into infrastructure. Tesla has not specified the technology behind their solar cells, but have claimed that they achieve 98 percent of the efficiency of traditional solar panels.

TeslaOne year ago Tesla Motors announced plans to build its Gigafactory to produce huge numbers of batteries, giving life to the old saying, “if you want something done right, do it yourself.”

By making electric car batteries that Tesla used to buy from others, CEO Elon Musk adopted a strategy made famous by Henry Ford – build a vertically integrated company that controls the many stages of production. By integrating “backward” into its supply chain, Musk is betting Tesla can improve the performance and lower the costs of batteries for its vehicles.

Now, Musk wants Tesla to acquire SolarCity for similar reasons, but with a slightly different twist.

SolarCity is one of the largest installers of solar photovoltaic panels, with some 300,000 residential, commercial and industrial customers in 27 states. The proposed merger with SolarCity would vertically integrate Tesla forward, as opposed to backward, into the supply chain. That is, when people come to Tesla stores to buy a vehicle, they will be able to arrange installation of solar panels – and potentially home batteries – at the same time.

This latest move would bring Tesla one step closer to being the fully integrated provider of sustainable energy solutions for the masses that Elon Musk envisions. But does it make business sense?

The real issue in my mind comes down to batteries and innovation.

Creating demand and scale

Although installing batteries is not a big part of SolarCity’s current business, the company is a potentially large consumer of Tesla’s batteries from the Gigafactory. Tesla makes Powerwall batteries for homes and larger Powerpack systems for commercial and industrial customers.

Any increase in the flow of batteries through the factory gives Tesla better economies of scale and potential for innovation. Innovation comes with the accumulated experience gained from building a key component of its electric vehicles as well as Tesla’s energy storage systems. As the company manufactures more batteries, it will find ways to innovate around battery design and production.


The transportation industry is evolving, and Tesla CEO Elon Musk is a driving force behind that evolution.

Ten years ago, Musk first outlined his master plan, which included the development of affordable electric cars (including the recently released Tesla Model 3). Now, Musk has released his “Master Plan, Part Deux,” which shifts emphasis from the development of electric cars to the implementation of new (sometimes controversial) autonomous driving technology. Not only does Musk hope to apply this technology to Tesla vehicles, but also expand to self-driving buses and trucks. This could mean trucks on autopilot that could lead to “a substantial reduction in the cost of cargo transportation” in long trips.

According to Musk, the purpose of these plans is to “[accelerate] the advent of sustainable energy, so that we can imagine far into the future and life is still good. That’s what ‘sustainable’ means. It’s not some silly, hippy thing – it matters for everyone.”


By now you’ve probably heard the headlines about the dangers of self-driving cars in light of the first fatal crash involving a Tesla vehicle.

That crash took place on July 1, but more incidents involving the autopilot feature of Tesla vehicles have been reported since.

Just one day after the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration started their investigation into the safety of Tesla’s self-driving mode, another non-fatal accident was reported outside of Pittsburgh.

In a recent interview with NPR, Wired magazine report Alex Davies discussed how Tesla’s autopilot feature works and what some of its safety issues are.

According to Davies, Tesla’s autopilot feature functions similarly to the advanced cruise control of other makes and models. Once you exceed 18 mph, drivers can activate the autopilot mode, where the car then uses cameras to read lane lines and sensors to keep appropriate distances from other vehicles.

But the technology does not seem to be working without complication.


Elon Musk

Elon Musk via Insider Monkey/Flickr

By now you’ve probably heard of the big merger between automotive innovator Tesla and rooftop solar guru SolarCity. Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, claims that the integration will create “the world’s first vertically integrated energy company,” set to offer the full spectrum of clean energy products to customers.

While both companies have gotten a lot of attention from investors over the years, there has been a lot of skepticism when it comes to the financial future of the joining of these two companies.

First, neither companies have made any money independently last year. In fact, combined they lost $1.7 billion.

But the financial losses are not the real concern. As MIT Technology Review points out, the technology that would make an end-to-end clean energy system feasible has not yet been developed by either company.

Musk’s vision for the newly integrated company is to set up consumers to solely utilize renewable energy. That would mean electric vehicles, rooftop solar panels, and of course, a battery to store energy when the sun goes down.

Although Tesla has already premiered their home Powerwall battery, it fell short of expectations. The seven-kilowatt-hour battery was expected to be able to store enough energy to power your home and send energy back to the grid (converting homes to microgrids) for a flat rate of $3,000, but the actual cost turned out to be closer to $10,000.

Pair that cost with SolarCity panels and analyses show that you’ll be paying over double for your electricity than a typical rate user.

“At the end of the day, the Powerwall has the same Li-ion battery cells in it as any other Li-ion-based storage product: Asian-sourced batteries that are arranged in packs,” Jay Whitacre, ECS member and professor at Carnegie Mellon University, told MIT Technology Review. “It’s basically off-the-shelf cell technology.”

An odd partnership emerged at the Waste EXPO 2016 as truck manufacturer Mack Trucks and Tesla Motors joined forces to introduce an electrified garbage truck based on Mack’s LR model.

The innovative car manufacturer outfitted the truck with a regenerative braking system, which allows the truck to recharge its battery while it operates.

Because of the frequent stopping and start of a garbage truck’s engine, a significant amount of energy is wasted in its day-to-day operation.

“We don’t make vehicles, we just make powertrains,” said Ian Wright, co-founder of Tesla. “There’s a battery pack that you can charge from the grid, and there’s a range-extender generator which can burn fuel, make electricity and keep the battery pack charged so that you don’t run out of range.”

Making Music through Tesla Coils

Musicians ArcAttack are bringing new meaning to the genre of electronic music with their rendition of Europe’s “Final Countdown” rendered through the hums of the infamous Tesla coils.

In order to produce the fury of sound and electricity, the band rigged their instruments to the frequencies of electrical current coursing through the coils. The resulting sparks can cause vibrations through the air at predetermined frequencies.

Science KombatA new web-based game, Science Kombat, is pitting some of history’s greatest minds against each other.

Gamers can pick from eight of history’s most famous geniuses to play as, including Nikola Tesla, Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Pythagoras, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Alan Turing, and Stephen Hawking.

But this game isn’t just any combat-based game. Each character makes use of a special superpower that is specific to their scientific contributions to the world. For example, Marie Curie can shot polonium and radium and her opponents, while Nikola Tesla unleashes huge bursts of electricity.

Check out more of these geniuses and their superpowers by playing the game.

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