People often associate Da Vinci with his works of art, namely, Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, however, the Renaissance innovator was more than a great painter. Leonardo Da Vinci was also an inspiring inventor and his concepts were centuries ahead.
Da Vinci had several sketches in notepads which illustrated his unconventional ideas, many of which have been preserved since his death in 1519. His ideas were certainly revolutionary, even though there’s no evidence that his concepts were built during the 1500s. Here are some of da Vinci’s revolutionary inventions:
Da Vinci’s hundreds of journal entries on human and avian flight imply that he longed to soar through the air like a bird. In fact, his designs for a so-called flying machine were inspired by the anatomy of birds and bats. His designs featured a pair of large wings connected to a wooden frame, inside of which an intrepid pilot could lie facedown and move the wings up and down by turning a crank that moved a series of rods and pulleys. Though da Vinci’s flying machine was never built, it certainly embedded the idea of flight in the following centuries. The world would have to wait another 400 years or so for a machine that could really fly, as da Vinci’s sketch wasn’t sufficient to build a working flying machine. It wasn’t until 1903 that brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright made the first successful powered aircraft.
Today, many people perceive da Vinci as a painter, but what most people don’t know I that Leonardo da Vinci also took an interest to military. One of his wealthiest clients was Ludovico Sforza, then the Duke of Milan, who at the end of the 15th century was charged with defending his Italian state against an invading French army.
To gain Sforza’s favour, da Vinci designed a number of instruments of warfare, including an armoured car that could be used to impede the enemy in battle. The invention consisted of a wagon propelled by manpower and covered in sheets of metal. Slits in the metal would allow Italian soldiers to shoot their weapons without being struck by enemy fire. The armoured car was never built and army tanks, which was a similar concept, was only built 400 years later during the World War I.
Many of da Vinci’s inventions were before his time, but his designs for a humanoid robot were truly futuristic. Under the patronage of Sforza, da Vinci invented a “robotic knight” that could wave its arms, move its neck, and even open and close its mouth. This strange doll was controlled externally by cables operated with a hand crank, as well as by an internal, gear-driven machine. Only 450 years after da Vinci designed his robotic knight, his detailed sketches of the invention were rediscovered. And in the early 21st century, one roboticist took a page from these notes in designing an anthropomorphic robot for the modern age. Mark Rosheim, a roboticist who has built robotic systems for NASA and Lockheed Martin, built a working model of da Vinci’s robotic knight in 2002.