Next up is an Italian man from the town of Vinci. He has a rather unusual mind for inventions, but can he walk away with the money from our fiery dragons? or will he incur the grumpy woman’s wrath? Let’s find out, here is Leonardo Da Vinci’s Top 10 inventions
The Flying Machine
Of Leonardo da Vinci’s many areas of study, perhaps this Renaissance man’s favorite was the area of aviation. Da Vinci seemed truly excited by the possibility of people soaring through the skies like birds.
One of da Vinci’s most famous inventions, the flying machine (also known as the “ornithopter”) ideally displays his powers of observation and imagination, as well as his enthusiasm for the potential of flight. The design for this invention is clearly inspired by the flight of winged animals, which da Vinci hoped to replicate. In fact, in his notes, he mentions bats, kites and birds as sources of inspiration.
Perhaps the inspiration of the bat shines through the most, as the two wings of the device feature pointed ends commonly associated with the winged creature. Leonardo da Vinci’s flying machine had a wingspan that exceeded 33 feet, and the frame was to be made of pine covered in raw silk to create a light but sturdy membrane.
The pilot would lie face down in the center of the invention on a board. To power the wings, the pilot would pedal a crank connected to a rod-and-pulley system. The machine also had a hand crank for increased energy output, and a head piece for steering. As the busy pilot spins cranks with his hands and feet, the wings of the machine flap. The inspiration of nature in the invention is apparent in the way the wings were designed to twist as they flapped.
Unfortunately, as da Vinci himself might have realized, 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.
Though the first actual helicopter wasn’t built until the 1940s, it is believed that Leonardo da Vinci’s sketches from the late fifteenth century were the predecessor to the modern day flying machine. As with many of da Vinci’s ideas, he never actually built and tested it – but his notes and drawings mapped out exactly how the device would operate.
Da Vinci scrawled next to his sketches of the screw-like machine the following description: “If this instrument made with a screw be well made – that is to say, made of linen of which the pores are stopped up with starch and be turned swiftly, the said screw will make its spiral in the air and it will rise high.”
Also known as the “Helical Air Screw” or simply the “airscrew”, the device was designed to compress air to obtain flight – similar to today’s helicopters. Da Vinci was a big proponent of the many possibilities offered by the screw shape, and he used the shape for other inventions and designs as well.
Da Vinci’s helicopter measured more than 15 feet in diameter and was made from reed, linen and wire. It was to be powered by four men standing on a central platform turning cranks to rotate the shaft. With enough rotation, da Vinci believed the invention would lift off the ground. Unfortunately, due to weight constrictions, modern scientists do not believe da Vinci’s invention would have been able to take flight.
3. Scuba Gear
What made Leonardo da Vinci such a great artist was also what made him such a great inventor: his fascination with the world around him. This was the case with water. In his lifetime, da Vinci designed many inventions dealing with water – perhaps, most notably, scuba gear.
While working in Venice, the “water city”, in 1500, da Vinci designed his scuba gear for sneak attacks on enemy ships from underwater. The leather diving suit was equipped with a bag-like mask that went over the diver’s head. Attached to the mask around the nose area were two cane tubes that led up to a cork diving bell floating on the surface.
Air was provided from the opening of the tubes to the diver below. The mask also was equipped with a valve-operated balloon that could be inflated or deflated, so the diver could more easily surface or sink. Additionally, Leonardo da Vinci’s scuba gear invention incorporated a pouch for the diver to urinate in.
Da Vinci’s idea for Scuba gear (like many of his invention ideas) didn’t actually become well-known until his famous Codex Atlanticus, a twelve-volume set of his drawings and notes, was published after his death.
4. Revolving Bridge
Designed for Duke Sforza, Leonardo da Vinci’s revolving bridge could be quickly packed up and transported for use by armies on the move to pass over bodies of water.
The bridge would swing across a stream or moat and set down on the other side so that soldiers could pass with little trouble. The device had wheels and incorporated a rope-and-pulley system for both quick employment and easy transport. It was also equipped with a counterweight tank for balancing purposes.
Da Vinci described the bridge in his notes as being “light yet rugged” and it was one of several bridges he designed for the Duke in his lifetime. Another, similar bridge Leonardo da Vinci built for armies was a fast-construction bridge that made it quicker and easier for soldiers to cross multiple rivers.
Such temporary bridges helped armies to navigate unfamiliar terrain with less difficulty, and more easily escape from pursuing forces. They also provided armies with what da Vinci believed was one of the most important aspects of warfare: mobility.
Modern armies now have these vehicles:
5. 33-Barreled Organ – Machine Gun
The way Leonardo da Vinci saw it, the problem with the canons of the time was that they took far too long to load. His solution to that problem was to build multi-barreled guns that could be loaded and fired simultaneously.
This idea forms the basis of war inventions like da Vinci’s 33-barreled organ, which featured 33 small-caliber guns connected together. The canons were divided into three rows of 11 guns each, all connected to a single revolving platform. Attached to the sides of the platform were large wheels.
All the guns on the organ would be loaded and then, during battle, the first row of 11 would be fired. The platform would then be rotated to properly aim the next row of canons. The idea was that while one set of canons was being fired, another set would be cooling and the third set could be loaded. This system allowed soldiers to repeatedly fire without interruption.
The weapon is referred to as an “organ” because the rows of canon barrels resemble the pipes of an organ. Leonardo da Vinci’s design for the 33-barrelled organ is generally regarded as the basis for the modern day machine gun – a weapon that didn’t really develop for commercial use until the 19th century.
6. Armoured Car – Tank
The precursor to the modern tank, Leonardo da Vinci’s armored car invention was capable of moving in any direction and was equipped with a large number of weapons. The most famous of da Vinci’s war machines, the armored car was designed to intimidate and scatter an opposing army.
Da Vinci’s vehicle has a number of light cannons arranged on a circular platform with wheels that allow for 360-degree range. 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. Leonardo suggested in his notes that the thought of using horses for power crossed his mind, but he dismissed it because he feared the animals would become too unpredictable in the confines of the tank.
Despite its elaborate design, da Vinci’s tank has a major flaw – the powering cranks went in opposite directions. This made forward motion impossible. Scholars suggest such a basic engineering flaw would never have escaped the detail-oriented mind of Leonardo da Vinci and that he may have inserted the flaw intentionally. A pacifist at heart, da Vinci might have sabotaged his own design to discourage the war machine from every being built.
7. Giant Crossbow – Well it was what it said on the tin!
One thing Leonardo da Vinci may have understood better than any of his contemporaries was the psychological effects of weapons in warfare. Da Vinci knew that the fear weapons could instill in enemies was just as important (if not more so) than the damage they could actually inflict.
This was one of the main ideas behind many of da Vinci’s war inventions – among them, his giant crossbow. Designed for pure intimidation, da Vinci’s crossbow was to measure 42 braccia (or 27 yards) across. The device would have six wheels (three on each side) for mobility, and the bow itself would be made of thin wood for flexibility.
Rather than fire giant arrows, Leonardo’s crossbow instead seems to be designed to fire large stones or possibly flaming bombs. For use, a soldier spins a crank to pull back the bow and loads the artillery. The soldier would then use a mallet to knock out a holding pin and fire the weapon.
The giant crossbow invention is a great example of the way da Vinci’s artwork really brought his ideas to life. Through his illustrations, an idea, however improbable, becomes realistic and plausible. His vivid drawings of the giant crossbow invention also make it clear the idea behind the impressive weapon was to terrify enemies into fleeing rather than fighting.
8. Self-Propelled Cart – Car
Before motorized vehicles were even a glimmer in someone’s eye, Leonardo da Vinci designed a self-propelled cart capable of moving without being pushed. Among its other accomplishments, many consider da Vinci self-propelled cart invention to be the world’s first robot.
The self-propelled cart was one of the many inventions that Leonardo created dealing with locomotion and transportation. Historians later deduced that da Vinci specifically designed the cart for theatrical use.
Leonardo’s cart was powered by coiled springs and it also featured steering and brake capabilities. When the brake was released, the car would propel forward, and the steering was programmable to go either straight or at pre-set angles.
Da Vinci’s cart design was so ahead of its time that its exact workings baffled scholars until late in the 20th century. But, in 2006, Italy’s Institute and Museum of the History of Science in Florence built a working model based on da Vinci’s design and, to the surprise of many, the cart actually worked. Some experts even noted that it looked similar to the Mars Land Rover.
9. Ideal City
Perhaps no idea speaks to the epic ambition and scope of Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions better than his ideal city. This invention focuses not just on a single area but combines da Vinci’s talents as an artist, architect, engineer and inventor to create an entire city.
Da Vinci’s ideal city idea came about after the plague had ravaged Milan, killing off nearly a third of the city’s population. Leonardo wanted to design a city that would be more united, with greater communications, services and sanitation to prevent the future spread of such diseases.
His ideal city integrated a series of connected canals, which would be used for commercial purposes and as a sewage system. The city would feature lower and upper areas – the lower being canals for tradesmen and travelers and the upper being roads for “gentleman”. The roads were designed to be very broad, most likely in response to Milan’s narrow streets where people were jammed together, probably contributing to the spread of the plague.
Being an artist and architect, da Vinci’s city also would be a vision to behold, with elegant buildings featuring large arches and pillars. Da Vinci said of his style of urban planning: “Only let that which is good looking be seen on the surface of the city.”
Da Vinci detailed many other great and small aspects of his city. These include special stables for horses, which the animal-loving da Vinci saw as integral to the workings of the city, and fresh air vents in buildings. However, since da Vinci’s design was so grand in scale and required an entire city to be rebuilt, his ideal city never actually came to fruition.
Though credit for the invention of the first practical parachute usually goes to Sebastien Lenormand in 1783, Leonardo da Vinci actually conceived the parachute idea a few hundred years earlier.
Da Vinci made a sketch of the invention with this accompanying description: “If a man have a tent made of linen of which the apertures (openings) have all been stopped up, and it be twelve braccia (about 23 feet) across and twelve in depth, he will be able to throw himself down from any great height without suffering any injury.”
Perhaps the most distinct aspect of da Vinci’s parachute design was that the canopy was triangular rather than rounded, leading many to question whether it would actually have enough air resistance to float. And since da Vinci’s parachute was to be made with linen covering a wood frame, the hefty weight of the device also was viewed as an issue.
Like many of da Vinci’s ideas, the invention was never actually built or tested by Leonardo himself. But, in 2000, daredevil Adrian Nichols constructed a prototype based on da Vinci’s design and tested it. Despite skepticism from experts, da Vinci’s design worked as intended and Nichols even noted that it had a smoother ride than the modern parachute.
So there you go, it’s obvious from these inventions why people call Leonardo the “Ultimate Renaissance Man”. Even though these are centuries ahead of their time, I wonder how well they would have done against the Dragons? Let’s hope a little better than Ken and Brian below
For more on the Renaissance, be sure to keep it here!