Tesla Envisioned Drone Warfare Nearly 120 Years Ago


Tom Hale

Tom is a writer in London with a Master's degree in Journalism whose editorial work covers anything from health and the environment to technology and archaeology.

Senior Journalist


The patent that seemingly suggests Nikola Tesla was imagining unmanned drones in the 1890s.

With his namesake electric car company hitting the roads and the widespread use of wireless technology, it often seems like the work of Nikola Tesla has really come into its own in the 21st century. But if you needed further evidence that his controversial mind was ahead of its time, look no further than this 118-year-old patent.

Matthew Schroyer recently tweeted a snippet of the patent that highlighted Tesla was looking to developing unmanned vehicles for use in communication, scientific exploration, and warfare. The patent, filed on July 1, 1898, contains detailed text and diagrams that denote machines that are operated and controlled by a “receiving circuit... both adjusted and rendered sensitive to the influence of waves or impulses emanating from a remote source.”


Tesla explains in the patent that these machines could be useful for “communication with inaccessible regions and exploring the conditions existing in the same…[as well as] scientific, engineering, or commercial purposes; but the great value of my invention will result from its effect upon warfare.”


The depiction has a striking parallel with the current-day use of drones – ranging from Amazon's delivery drones and unmanned aerial vehicle airstrikes, to their broad scientific applicationsThat's not a bad level of foresight, considering this was a time when the world hadn't even started producing military tanks yet.

Perhaps the most prophetic aspect of the patent is the allusion to “drone warfare”, which has become part and parcel of modern war. While many criticize their use, Tesla ended his explanation of military drone use on an optimistic and wide-eyed note: “By reasons of its certain and unlimited destructiveness it will tend to bring about and maintain permanent peace among nations.”

You can view the full patent here. 


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