Leonardo da Vinci inventions

Five da Vinci inventions that could have revolutionized the history of technology

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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

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.

Flying machine

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.

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

One of da Vinci’s sketches of a flying machine shows close resemblance to the wings of a bat ( Wikipedia)

Armored vehicle

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.


Justbod's picture

Fascinating! There are a couple here I did not know about.

It's great to play the 'what-if?' game with history and Leonardo's amazing works are a prime example.

Many thanks for the article!

Sculptures, carvings & artwork inspired by a love of history & nature: www.justbod.co.uk




Culture is very important when it comes to innovation and ideas. As we see during our day to day lives and walks of life. That humans can solve problems in their environment. There is a direct connection between art and innovation,because without being able to use artistic ability such as writing and other forms of art, how can we begin to express our own ideas into a format that can be understood by people from all walks of life.. unfortunately some schools, institutions and, parental figures have given a negative stigma to art programs because, on the basis it does not make money... At the end of the day innovations and inventions make human activities more efficient, and efficiency creates more resources which has a higher value that Fiat currency.

Troy Mobley

i know this sound mad but i have seen a real one in south Yorkshire England . i had to look three time to see dreaming . i have all way want to see one but wow but i am scared now as i dont know if people are real are aliens when i was looking at it made a sound of steel been up around it when i looked again it was putting up a glass screen then it just vanished i kept looking for it it had gone when i go in to town and to see family i still look for it but there as to be a cover up as they are with us in towns and citys now

Every time you look at the master's sketches you see something new. The aircraft is very clever (but not workable, it may show an important aspect of flight control). Bird muscle mass, is around 4:1 wing to leg. For humans it's the other way around, the aircraft is controlled with human legs. What I didn't appreciate before, is how the wing is configured There is NO way a human can support wing loading for a sufficient large platform area for any length of time using arms (many tower jumpers tried to breaking limbs or losing their life). He's not trying to. More so, he may be trying to utilise dynamic soaring (that birds use). I do not believe he's trying to create propelled flight using a flapping wing. He's wanting to change the angle of attack to generate lift (altitude) in high winds, then lower the angle of attack for gliding flight in low winds. What's clever is how the wing is controlled. You don't have to use energy to support the wing, this is done using the pulley system. You just extend one leg to control the angle of attack to selectively trade momentum for altitude. There is a note he wrote referring to testing an aircraft (unknown which it was), I think it was Como or another nearby lake when he worked for the Duke of Milano. The air screw was also built, it is an enhancement to a Chinese spinning top (that were imported as a curiosity/toy at this time), strange swirling devices where observed over the Vatican wall when he was commissioned to paint a fresco. It's a new type of spinning top, the section at the bottom is the release mechanism, you get the blade up to speed with a wound cord held in a tube, you pull the cord, The helix is for a left-handed thinker/cord puller. I suspect that this was being explored not for air, but to propel a ship in water. There is a passage that refers to 'silent approach' to attack a port, he was bragging about it in his letter of introduction to the Duke. It may not relate to the breathing apparatus, but a method of propelling a ship using a water screw without oars (much more useful), there is an armoured destroyer sketch, it doesn't have apertures in the hull for oars! This guy knews he's fluid dynamics, he built water tunnels to observe what was going on (you put pepper in the water to see the fluid flows).. There are flecks on the air screw sketch where air would fall off the returning blade creating turbulance. Genius.

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