Abstract In this paper, an algorithm for time-varying parameter estimation for a large class of nonlinear systems is presented. The proof of the convergence of the estimates to their true values is achieved using Lyapunov theories and does not require that the classical persistent excitation condition be satisfied by the input signal. Since the induction motor (IM) is widely used in several industrial sectors, the algorithm developed is potentially useful for adjusting the controller parameters of variable speed drives. The method proposed is simple and easily implementable in real-time. The application of this approach to on-line estimation of the rotor resistance of IM shows a rapidly converging estimate in spite of measurement noise, discretization effects, parameter uncertainties (e.g. inaccuracies on motor inductance values) and modeling inaccuracies. The robustness analysis for this IM application also revealed that the proposed scheme is insensitive to the stator resistance variations within a wide range. The merits of the proposed algorithm in the case of on-line time-varying rotor resistance estimation are demonstrated via experimental results in various operating conditions of the induction motor. The experimental results obtained demonstrate that the application of the proposed algorithm to update on-line the parameters of an adaptive controller (e.g. IM and synchronous machines adaptive control) can improve the efficiency of the industrial process. The other interesting features of the proposed method include fault detection/estimation and adaptive control of IM and synchronous machines.