15th century, artist and inventor Leonardo Da Vinci had no academic training. He is known as the original “Renaissance man,” because he knew so much about so many different subjects. Da Vinci painted the Mona Lisa, the world’s most famous portrait. He painted The Last Supper, the world’s most famous religious painting. But Da Vinci also kept a series of notebooks that really showed off his smarts. The notebooks covered a wide range of topics like anatomy (study of the human body), astronomy (study of the stars and planets), botany (study of plants and flowers), cartography (study of maps), and even paleontology (study of fossils). Also in Da Vinci’s notebooks was the Robotic Knight!
Long before the invention of artificial intelligence or your iMac computer, Da Vinci imagined the future. He dreamed of a humanoid robot, a knight that could wave its robot arms, sit down, and even open its mouth. His notebooks contained plans for a self-propelling cart which was just a sketch for a robotic vehicle. The human-shaped robot happened because Da Vinci was obsessed with the human body. Note only did he sketch the Knight…he made a model! Evidence shows that Da Vinci wanted to build the real-life robot to impress guests at the parties of his prime benefactor, a wealthy Italian patron named Sforza.
How did Da Vinci’s bot work? Scientists believe it was powered by a sequence of pulleys and gears. Recently, scientists have attempted to build actual versions of the robot. So far, it has not been done but elements of the Robotic Knight have been used in the design of planetary exploration robots being created today. Da Vinci played a key role in envisioning robots in real-life today, even though he lived nearly 600 years ago. Worth mentioning: Frankenbots Abe and Floyd, Kings of the Robot Auto Shop, are probably descended from that Da Vinci Knight. How a-bot that?
Have you ever kept a journal or a diary? If you had to sketch and diagram a robot, what would its main function be? What would you name it? Who instantly thought: “Oh, let me call it Da Vinci?” (Try to think up something totally original.)
*Renaissance is a French word that means “rebirth.” At some point, changing society began to celebrate the old classical music, literature, and art from Greek and Roman times—and brought it back into the mainstream again.