Leonardo da Vinci’s robots

At the beginning, let me say something. This article is about automated devices made by Leonardo da Vinci. If you are interested in the da Vinci robot surgery system you may want to read my article on surgical robots.

There is no doubt that Leonardo da Vinci was a genius. Although nowadays he is mostly recognized as a great artist, his achievements in other fields are also very notable. Especially, if the fact that he was self-educated in fields other than painting is recognized.

Amongst many of Leonardo’s inventions there are some automata as well. This was discovered relatively recently – at the middle of the 20-th century. Although it is clear that Leonardo invented such devices, the materials that survived until this day doesn’t give a clear account on the way they operated.

Recently numerous attempts to recreate Leonardo da Vinci’s automata have been made by various scholars and museums. These reconstructions can differ in those nuances that are not fully defined in Leonardo’s manuscripts.

Leonardo’s cart

This mechanism is also known as Leonardo’s cart. As far as I know, it was known earlier that the mechanism was self-propelled, but it was not known that the cart was programmable. As it turns out now the cart was, in fact, programmable.

Some interpretations of the codex regarding the cart robot have been made. Earlier interpretations by various scholars seem inaccurate in the light of recent discoveries. Today there are two versions of possible interpretations. One is made by Mark Rosheim and the other by Leonardo3.

Leonardo3 is a research group gathered together by a sole purpose of reconstructing Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions. They have done a tremendous work in making new interpretations of many previously known inventions, as well as discovering some new ones.

The Lion robot

There are stories that tell that Leonardo made a mechanical Lion that was able to walk and present flowers at the end of its performance. It is said that this Lion was presented to a King of France as an amusement or as a diplomatic gesture.

As with other Leonardo’s inventions the way this automaton worked is not completely clear. The way it should work is not fully clear either. Stories told about this lion are not eyewitness records. Nevertheless, also in case of this robot, attempts of reconstruction have been made. You can watch one here.

Does this look primitive to you? Well, try to invent one.

Leonardo’s robot

Leonardo’s robot is a nickname given to a humanoid automaton designed by Leonardo da Vinci. This device is also known as the soldier robot, or as the Leonardo’s mechanical knight. Basically, it is a warrior, clad in medieval armor, that is capable of some human-like movements.

The sketches portraying such a robot was rediscovered only in 1957 by Carlo Pedretti. Nevertheless, further studies were carried out only in 1996 by Mark Rosheim. A complete physical model was built even later – in 2002 by the aforementioned Mark Rosheim. The robot is able to do several human-like movements. It can sit; move its arms, neck and jaw.


Further reading

The information on this topic is quite sparse on the internet. However, there are some interesting books to read regarding Leonardo’s robots. These books are written by the same people I mentioned above regarding the discoveries in this field.

Mark Rosheim’s book “Leonardo’s Lost Robots” shows how Rosheim reconstructed Leonardo da Vinci’s automata such as the programmable cart, mechanical lion, robot knight and an automaton used to strike a bell. This way the book shows the importance of Leonardo’s work in robotics history.

I also mentioned a certain research group – Leonardo3. They too have a book dedicated to Leonardo’s robots called “Leonardo da Vinci’s robots”. This book features many illustrations of manuscripts and designs. The interesting thing about this book is that it is possible to get a kit of the programmable cart along with this book. You can find the book at Leonardo3’s site.

The bottom line? In the Renaissance interest about ancient Greek works reemerged. Luckily, the scholars of the Islamic golden age managed to preserve these works. So scholars of the renaissance continued the work of ancient cultures and medieval Islam scholars by building on the knowledge of these people.

Leonardo da Vinci was one of the brightest minds of his time. Luckily for robotics enthusiasts like you and me, he contributed some of his efforts to the history of robotics as well. As with other aspects of his life, his robots are also a bit shrouded in mystery.

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