I have some intelligent dragons that can discharge electricity.(Lets assume they can somehow release this electricity through contact with an object/animal when outside the water, as air is of course not a suitable conductor.) My question is: Being that they they have this readily handy energy, what kind of technology could they develop that exclusively uses their discharge as the main power source? (Or if not a power source, a main component in achieving a desired effect. We can hand wave and make it so they can produce a steady current, and realism for necessary power output isn't hugely concerning to me, as long as it isn't extremely outlandish, especially considering they are social and therefore could utilize several dragons at once to achieve something, much in the way electric eels utilize social predation.) Some things I was immediately curious about were induction heating, chemical reactions, and inverse piezoelectricity via this answer to another of my questions on this site.

Edit: Here is some additional info that may be useful. These creatures typically live in areas with access to the sea. (Islands, costal, tropics, or even other areas with large bodies of fresh water.)They are big on ocean travel, so ship and water related technology would be heavily utilized. (They are capable of sensing electrical fields while in the water, similar to how electric eels hunt.) They would be highly motivated to harvest metals for their conductive properties, I would imagine, so mining would also be important. As for how advanced they are, I would like them to be around renaissance level technology maybe a little further. (though the change in available electricity will change progress, so things being invented sooner is fine too.) most things are still made by hand (or, claw?) but new technologies make the work for these individuals more efficient. However, because they would have access to electricity before fire, I would think they'd be more likely to make discoveries about electrical properties, meaning the progress on that front would be accelerated.

  • $\begingroup$ This is what the Illuminate are in Helldivers. Against their shields, one cannon shell has the same effect as a pistol bullet, so you might as well use a tiny machine gun to wear down their shields. $\endgroup$
    – DKNguyen
    Apr 20, 2021 at 21:40
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    $\begingroup$ +1 not just for linking to my answer, but because it's an interesting question. That being said, what is their environment, what substances are they likely to find in their everyday encounters - what is their already existing technology level in this question? If you want to say something like "Earth 200,000 years ago,humans at that time and oceanic", then fine. $\endgroup$ Apr 20, 2021 at 21:51
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    $\begingroup$ I don't have the substance to make this a full answer, but I would imagine that their technological advancements would probably be limited to simple DC devices - Anything with IC's would get immediately fried when they touched them, let alone likely not getting to the point of considering alternating currents if they have a constant supply of direct current available. Also I would imagine the RF spectrum would be polluted with dragon juju all the time. $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2021 at 0:22
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    $\begingroup$ What is their fine manipulation ability - do their claws provide dexterity comparable to a human for tool use when creating devices? Most importantly, what type/s of wire can they produce (metal types and how fine)? $\endgroup$ Apr 21, 2021 at 1:00
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    $\begingroup$ See this post about putting thanks in advance, hope you all have a great day, etc. in your posts (I’m talking about the current bounty): meta.stackexchange.com/questions/2950/… $\endgroup$ Apr 27, 2021 at 17:06

4 Answers 4


Basic DC is what they can use.

Sensing electrical potentials would make it easier to develop knowledge of half-cell galvanic reactions, especially if they used metallic rods as hunting aids. A copper and a zinc rod left in a puddle, and someone leaning against them, could be enough. That immediately leads to thoughts of electroplating. Coating copper hunting-rods with gold would vastly reduce corrosion.

It's also possible that (available power permitting) someone tinkering might come up with an electromagnet. Perhaps they're making jewellery at the time. That could be used as a compass, or to open a latch. It's unlikely that they could create practical ballistic weapons using it, although if they can sustain electric-eel power for a quarter-second, then these are surprisingly close to reachable (calculation for lower-limit). Some capacitors might let them use railgun principles. (Ed: More plausible than I thought, see below.)

Recharging chemical batteries would be a draining process using one's own biochemical energy, though. It seems plausible that it might be developed further as a mystical process. Using non-rechargeable batteries could be a stop-gap until someone found a way to store the energy in the longer-term.

Electrolysis can be used for aluminium refining once you have certain prerequisite infrastructure, allowing for about 25g per one-second pulse in an industrial setting. Difficult enough to keep aluminium worth more than gold, but you might be able to produce practical quantities with a large crew and some time. You'd probably gold-plate it to reduce corrosion. And so by accident, we've discovered why dragons have shiny hoards of gold-lookalike which is still light enough to carry off and ridiculously valuable if you do. (Other metal extractions might also benefit, Al-refining is just one I'm familiar with.)

This baseline of electrical technology also paves the way for the discovery of other effects, and a generally easier path to using electricity for motors, solar panels, and production.

Edit, having mentioned this to an engineer:

Basic AC is also on the table. While the mathematics which underlie transformers may not be easily accessible, an inverter can be made with an electromagnet which opens its own control switch. This allows low-frequency AC to be discovered by accident. While the AC transformer was invented in the 1880s based on the 1830s discovery of induction. But the required calculus was invented by the 1680s, and mathematical understanding isn't necessary if you can do trial-and-error, but you're stretching a bit to get it to happen.

Why is this important? With a diode (relatively easily discovered), a rectifier can be built, allowing you to get high-current or extra-voltage DC too.

A capacitor is also relatively simple to make with metal foil and paper, and allows handheld railgun-weapons to become practical. Or a coordinated team can fire a cannon-sized version, once the small-scale principle has been established.

Assumptions about power output: 400W, 600V, so a raw current of 0.66A per individual. Let's assume that they can sustain this for 1s. (An electric eel can do 0.002s, but these creatures are far larger and can train.)


Musketeers and welders

First, a bit of analysis. This question really boils down to "Given an anachronistic power source, what uses are there for electricity before the rest of the material sciences catch up?" So, let's look at what electricity was used for in the days of yore.

Light: This is crucial to enabling widespread industrialisation and sleep deprivation. It is great to be able to flick a switch and illuminate an area without fiddling around with igniting a substance that gives off a bit of light and a lot of noxious fumes and soot. For dragons who are mining underground for conductive metals this is an even greater advantage. However, I am slightly dubious that electric light would be easily invented by a small community of dragons - while there were light bulbs before Edison invented the carbon filament bulb, it took a dedicated industrial effort and late nineteenth century manufacturing to make them economically feasible. Definitely not feasible for Renaissance technology.

Firearms. Early firearms were, frankly, rubbish. Looking at a flintlock firearm it was necessary to pour powder down the barrel, ram a ball and patch down the barrel, prime the pan with more powder, cock the hammer, aim at the target and squeeze the trigger. At this point the rifle had to be kept pointing steadily at the target for a slightly uncertain time while the spark from the striker hopefully ignited the powder in the pan (misfires were common) and the flame made its way through the flash hole to the charge in the barrel. Closing one's eyes was a good idea to avoid burns from the powder in the pan (where the saying "flash in the pan" comes from).

Now let's look at a black powder musket / rifle / pistol made for dragons. Instead of a flash hole that flame travels down, there is an insulated wire inserted and tightly sealed, with one end exposed to the powder in the chamber and the other end exposed where the trigger would normally be (but insulated from the barrel). The dragon still has to pour in the powder and ram down the ball and patch, but then they calmly aim at the target and create an arc between the trigger wire and the barrel, resulting in a spark that reliably ignites the powder. There is no need for an unreliable spark mechanism (flintlock, matchlock etc), no need for messing around with loose powder near the face that will fall out if the firearm is tipped on its side, no need for a separate percussion cap once they are invented.

As a result, until the invention of cartridges that include a primer, dragon-used firearms will reign supreme on the battlefield for reload speed, accuracy and reliability, with the same principle used for cannons on land and sea. The dragons have no concerns about anyone capturing their weapons, as they cannot be used by inferior species that cannot generate sparks from their bodies.

Welding: Welding was really difficult back in the old days, basically blacksmiths had to melt metal and bash it together. Dragons, however, can introduce arc welding centuries before it appeared in the real world. This will make dragon-powered welding crews a highly valued resource for constructing metal structures and for early factories. Not an especially glamorous role, but very economically valuable.

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    $\begingroup$ Great ideas for welding and firearms. A quick search suggests that 3000V/mm would be the limit for firearms, electric eels generate 600V, so you'd need a <0.2mm spark-gap. Nice engineering, but doable. Welding needs high current and low voltage, which is more doable but might take a few goes. I'd suggest claw-tip gloves for precision welding and avoiding burns. (Jewellers might also benefit.) Finally, weapon-theft still means you're unarmed, so those guns would be kept safe - and you need gunpowder, too. $\endgroup$
    – Anon
    Apr 21, 2021 at 3:58
  • $\begingroup$ @Anon high voltage(shoker) sparks do not ignite black powder, there is a video on yt. Possible in general as electric ignitor, but just saying. // Nice answer $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Apr 28, 2021 at 16:53

Electromagnetic projectiles and simple remote communication

By charging coils of insulated wire wrapped around long hollow tubes (e.g. rubber- and gold-dipped fiber ropes wrapped around hollow tree trunks) they could build solenoids powered by their own bodies which could shoot large iron slugs with deadly force. Teams of dragons working together could scale up the results to rival the largest cannons produced by man.

By sparking their energy they could produce simple electromagnetic signals that could be received using extremely simple radio detector technology (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wireless_telegraphy). Detection of such signals may even be an inbred result of evolution similar to how electric eels and knifefish communicate using electric discharges.


More like a comment than an answer

Will there be a difference? Not really, by definition of your constraint, at that time mechanical energy and mechanical devices were the king, and conversion of one into another is an extra step and simpler to use body or animals or water gradient or wind - the way it was done.

Maybe in everyday life, it will have some use like sex toys or medical applications as electricity is native to them, so we may expect to see some strange little quirky things. And if you like just fashion it, add some different colors to known picture it can be enough, things like that mentioned in the existing answers.

Your problem is that you try to put a square object in a round hole.

The change u introduced is so fundamentally humongous, and despite its fundamental difference in starting position, u try/expect to find some subtle changes taking the state of things at 1300-1600ac.

The difference starts, if we try to put a triangle object in a square hole, and take parallels with humankind evolution and consider the first fire to be around 1.5 million years ago, the difference in development starts before that 1.5 million years, as electricity is their native secondary power thing. (By secondary I mean humans had one - muscles, those guys have 2 forces to use and explore muscles and electricity and related things)

They sensitive to magnetic fields, it was quite a problem for humans to navigate, Columbus missed by a continent, eh. But those guys are like birds, built-in compass. Do you think it won't have a difference loooong loong before the roman empire project?

Those guys of yours out of the box capable to do magic of electrolysis, out of the box eh, thus few million years before humans even recognized the existence of electricity.

The only bottleneck for them is their intellectual capacities, if they are smart enough and under the right conditions/pressure they can develop like a rocket in conditions where humans would fail, but if they fail to use brains there is no saving for them.

All we do with electricity, this tech tree unlocked for them from the start, and the electricity drives basically everything here.

As they get on the technological road, soon after the first stone knife and discovery of conductivity there is no stopping for them, after they discover conductivity in metals it is a snowball. But at the end of the day, a 1GW nuclear reactor is a much better energy source for electricity generation than making it on a bicycle, than "handcrafted" electricity. So it more like they have a research tool from the start, than something which actually drives things.

Such a native ability means probably a different tech tree from the get-go if conditions are right. And u try to take a magnifying glass to see the difference in a speck of dust of a completely different picture.


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