Da Vinci, Coded

A look at the famed artist’s drawings of early “robots”

The legend responsible for the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper—and who has books, movies, and a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle named after him—did much more than just paint.

Leonardo da Vinci was also thinking ahead in the disciplines of architecture and engineering (among many others). He explored the idea of the human body as a machine, and from this produced a number of drawings and proposals for various applications relevant to his time period. These included a ‘robotic knight’ with special medieval armor that utilized gears, wheels, pulleys, and cables while still allowing movement in the arms and legs. His work has matriculated to the engineering world of today, and can be (ironically) seen in methods that are now viewed as innovative, not antiquated, such as automation and regenerative braking.

Da Vinci also incorporated these mechanisms into his self-propelled cart invention, which many people consider the very first robot. He also used the parts to create the Robotic Knight. Though a full drawing of da Vinci’s robotic knight has never been recovered, fragments detailing different aspects of the knight have been found scattered throughout his notebooks.

One solution suitable for many industrial applications, particularly in heavy engineering, transport, mining, the elevator market and other applications that involve a lot of braking and restarting, is regenerative braking.

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