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very little relationship to how the Ballistic Breaker works.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Tesla was on track to invent the Ballistic Breaker

Nikola Tesla is one of my heroes, though I hope to have more business sense than him. When I was writing my US patent application on Ballistic Breakers (*here is an excerpt) it worried me greatly that there might be some very old prior art (which is impossible to find in an online patent search). On a whim, realizing that Tesla was brilliant, I decided to browse through Tesla's 111 US patents on the odd chance that one of his patents might be relevant. In fact, Tesla's US Patent 382,845 is one of the closest prior art patents, and creates a link between my work and one of the great pioneers in electricity.

The story behind US patent 382,845 is truly interesting, and I only know part of it. Tesla came over to the US at Thomas Edison's invitation, and agreed to Edison's proposal that he work on a bounty basis (I got this from a Tesla biography). Edison wanted Tesla to figure out how to stop the commutators of DC motors and/or generators from sparking, and offered him (verbally) a $50,000 bounty if he could succeed. The resultant US patent 382,845 is the only one of Tesla's patents that deals with DC power at all. Edison never paid the bounty which led to Tesla breaking off the relationship and becoming Edison's sworn rival. This patent reveals a remarkably simple way to suppress the commutator arcing, which I also use in the Ballistic Breaker: just behind the conductive brush that makes contact with the rotating commutator is an insulating material (a mica board) that is in contact with the conductive brush, and is squeezed against the commutator as well. This leaves no room for the spark in effect, and arcing is suppressed; a remarkably simple and effective solution. Tesla's patent is remarkable in another way: it is the only patent I have ever seen that is half assigned (to Charles F. Peck); I assume that there is an interesting story behind that as well.

I believe that if egoic considerations had not gotten in the way, Edison and Tesla might have continued to work together. Had that happened, I believe Tesla would have invented the commutating circuit breaker 120 years ago. This was one of the next problems that needed to be solved to make wide area DC power transmission & distribution practical. Instead, Tesla never looked back at DC power and his inventions ushered in the age of AC. DC power equipment quickly became a backwater technology, and there was little innovation until the modern age of HVDC and DC microgrids. By that time vacuum tubes and transistors had been invented, and recent work on DC circuit breakers has mostly used these innovations. My invention Ballistic Breakers goes back to basics and picks up a thread of innovation that was abandoned by Tesla long ago.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm, I thought they split because Edison laughed in his face when he pushed AC power as the way to go. He left, shopped it around and Westinghouse was happy to run with it.