Leonardo was, as is widely known, extremely far ahead of his time when it came to feats of engineering. But, did you know that he designed a robotic knight?
This was not his first robotic design. There was his self-propelled cart, which we will cover shortly. The robotic knight is massively impressive all the same.
No complete drawing of this device is known to exist. However, we have fragments dealing with different aspects of the knight. Here is what we do know:
It consisted of a suit of plate-mail containing gears and wheels connected to a pulley and cable system. By using this mechanism, the knight was said to be capable of sitting down, standing up, moving its head and lifting its visor.
No doubt his intimate understanding of how the human body worked and how muscles worked, helped him figure out how to create a method of emulating a limited subset of human motions.
In 2002, robotics expert Mark Rosheim used several different da Vinci drawings to build a prototype of the robotic knight. It was able to walk and wave. He noted that it was designed to be easily constructed, without a single unnecessary component.
Rosenheim has used some of the same concepts used by da Vinci to design his planetary exploration robots for NASA. So, da Vinci has, in a way, helped us to explore space! Not too bad for a 15th-century engineer…
It will surprise nobody that Leonardo was fascinated by virtually all aspects of the world around him, including the water. So, it should be no surprise that he might have tried to find a way to allow people to more easily navigate marine environments.
In 1500, when working in Venice, the “water-city”, Leonardo designed scuba gear to be used to allow sneak attacks on enemy ships from underwater. This was to be performed by allowing scuba-clad soldiers to cut holes in the bottom of enemy ships.
The leather suit was equipped with a mask like a bag that went over the head. Attached to the mask and around the nose area were two tubes that led to a cork diving bell which floated on the surface.
Air was provided by the opening of the tubes to the diver.
The mask was fitted with a valve-operated balloon that could be inflated or deflated thus allowing the diver to rise from the water more easily or more easily submerge himself.
Steel rings helped to reinforce the apparatus and to prevent the tubes from being crushed by water pressure.
Jacquie Cozens built a diving suit based on this design, using pig leather, bamboo tubes and a cork float. It worked quite well in shallow water.
This invention is widely described as an “automobile”, however, more recent scholarly work has revealed that it was intended as a cart devised for use in theatrical settings.
Two large central springs underneath the central horizontal cogwheels provided the motive power and caused the wheels to go into motion.
There was also another device which served as a remote handbrake.
The cart could go forward and could be programmed to steer either straight or at pre-set angles.