Five da Vinci inventions that could have revolutionized the history of technology
Leonardo da Vinci is one of the most famous artists in history. His genius, however, was not just in his art; Leonardo was also a brilliant inventor in the fields of civil engineering, chemistry, hydrodynamics, optics, mechanical engineering, pyrotechnics, anatomy, and physics. He envisioned many ideas long before the technology to build them actually existed, meaning that many of his designs, from helicopters to armored vehicles, calculators, diving suits, and robots, never came to fruition. If they had been built, they may have revolutionized the history of technology, but it is clear the world was not ready for da Vinci.
Leonardo da Vinci was born on 15 April 1452 to a notary, Piero da Vinci, and a peasant woman, Caterina, in Vinci in the region of Florence, Italy. Leonardo was educated in the studio of the renowned Florentine painter Verrocchio. Much of his early working life was spent in the service of Ludovico il Moro in Milan. He later worked in Rome, Bologna and Venice, and he spent his last years in France at the home awarded him by Francis I. During his lifetime, he was a renowned painter. Among his works, the Mona Lisa is the most famous portrait, and The Last Supper the most reproduced religious painting of all time. However, throughout his life, Leonardo spent many more hours on his inventions, recorded in over 13,000 pages of notes and sketches, many of which were not discovered until after his death on 2 May 1519.
Bust of Leonardo da Vinci in old age. Source: BigStockPhoto
A new article on LiveScience, reports on five of da Vinci’s key inventions that were before his time – a flying machine, armored vehicle, diving suit, machine gun, and humanoid robot.
One of da Vinci’s most famous inventions is the flying machine, although there were in fact many different models, mostly based on the flight of bats, kites, and birds. His designs reflect his powers of observation and imagination, as well as his keen desire to experience soaring like a bird.
A sketch by Leonardo da Vinci showing one of his envisioned flying machines. ( Wikimedia Commons )
One of da Vinci’s models consisted of a wooden frame with a wingspan exceeding 33 feet (10 meters). The ‘wings’ were to be covered in fine silk to create a light but sturdy membrane, like the wings of a bat. The pilot would lie face down on a board in the center. To power the wings, the pilot would pedal a crank that moved a series of rods and pulleys, causing the wings to flap. The fact that the wings were also designed to twist as they flapped demonstrates da Vinci’s inspiration from nature.
There is a legend that Leonardo tested the flying machine with one of his apprentices, and that the apprentice fell and broke his leg. However, there is no real evidence of such a test, and experts have indicated that while the flying machine may have flown once it was in the air, a person could never have created enough power to get the device off the ground.
“The world would have to wait another 400 years or so for a machine that could really fly,” writes LiveScience. “It wasn't until 1903 that brothers Wilbur and Orville Wright made their first successful flight in a powered aircraft.”
One of da Vinci’s sketches of a flying machine shows close resemblance to the wings of a bat ( Wikipedia)
Many of da Vinci’s inventions centered around weaponry and war machines, most likely because he was receiving funding from the Duke of Milan, who was responsible for Milan’s defense against the French.
One of da Vinci’s designs was an armored vehicle equipped with weapons and capable of moving in any direction, which many have called a precursor to the modern tank.
“Da Vinci’s vehicle has a number of light cannons arranged on a circular platform with wheels that allow for 360-degree range,” writes ‘ Da Vinci Inventions’ . “The platform is covered by a large protective cover (much like a turtle’s shell), reinforced with metal plates, which was to be slanted to better deflect enemy fire. There is a sighting turret on top to coordinate the firing of the canons and the steering of the vehicle. The motion of the machine was to be powered by eight men inside of the tank who would constantly turn cranks to spin the wheels.”
“Like his flying machine, da Vinci's armored car was never built. And it wasn't until 400 years later, during World War I, that armored tanks became a fixture of European battlefields,” LiveScience reports.