Archive for the 'Da Vinci' Category

Da Vinci @ Wired

The Wired ran a truly fascinating article on Da Vinci a few years ago. It shows that Da Vinci was indeed in a league of his own and sheds light on Da Vinci the roboticist! Here is the link and an excerpt below:

The historical record offers no mention of da Vinci having built a cart. Pedretti, however, unearthed a potential clue. “I found a fantastic document, date 1600,” Pedretti says. “It’s a description of a banquet held in Paris to honor the new queen of France, who was a Medici. On that occasion, Michelangelo Buonarroti the Younger observed the presentation of a mechanical lion. It walked, opened its chest, and in place of a heart it had fleurs-de-lis.” Pedretti pauses, gathering more papers. “This document, which was totally unknown, says this was a concept similar to one that Leonardo carried out in Lyons on the occasion of Francis I.” It appears da Vinci had engaged in high tech diplomacy circa 1515.

The cart, suggests Pedretti, may have been an early study in an emerging da Vinci sideline. Leonardo, he believes, created animated spectacles centuries before the great age of the European automata of Jacques de Vaucansan and Wolfgang von Kempelen. “The irony of the whole thing is that there is not a single hint in Leonardo’s manuscripts of this greatest technological invention,” Pedretti says. “Imagine to have a lion walk and stand on its legs and open up its chest – this is top technology!” What happened to those pages of drawings that would have revealed the inner workings of these wondrous devices? Perhaps they lie misfiled in some lost archive; perhaps they were destroyed by some church authority in the manner of Albertus Magnus’ mechanical woman, smashed by Thomas Aquinas as a work of the devil.

Half a millennium on, the cart could, says Rosheim, not only rewrite the history of robotics but also bring another da Vinci to light: da Vinci the roboticist. “If it was simply a spring-powered cart, it would not be that big a deal,” he says. “What’s significant is that you can replace or change these cams and alter how it goes about its path – in other words, it’s programmable in an analog, mechanical sense. It’s the Disney animatronics of its day.” The individual parts, interestingly, are not original to da Vinci – gears, cams, and the verge-and-foliot mechanism were all familiar concepts, particularly to clockmaking, the nanotech of da Vinci’s day. Indeed, as the historian Otto Mayr has noted, “clocks and automata, in short, tended to be very much the same thing”; clocks, in 16th-century dictionaries, were considered just one type of automata. But the possibility is that da Vinci married two ideas and created, in essence, a clock on wheels – turning the segmenting of time into the traversing of space – well before anyone else had thought of such a thing. No one could have done it as elegantly, in so compact a package, says Rosheim. “The robot cart is one of the most significant missing links in studying Leonardo. Suddenly, many drawings are making sense.”

Leonardo’s Lost Robots

I recently got this book from the library and it looks promising. The author, Mark Rosheim, seems to have put together stuff from various Da Vinvi manuscripts to construct automatas based on the design. Here is the description of the book from the publisher.

Leonardo´s Lost Robots reinterprets Leonardo da Vinci’s mechanical design work, revealing a new level of sophistication not recognized by art historians or engineers. By identifying his major technological projects, the book revisits Leonardo’s legacy of notebooks, showing that apparently unconnected fragments from dispersed manuscripts actually comprise cohesive designs for functioning automata. Using the rough sketches scattered throughout almost all of Leonardo’s papers, Rosheim has reconstructed Leonardo’s programmable cart, which was the platform for other automata: a Robot Lion, a Robot Knight, and a hydraulically powered automaton for striking a bell. Through a readable, lively narrative, Mark Rosheim recounts his adventures rediscovering and reconstructing da Vinci’s designs. In a foreword, the world-renowned Leonardo scholar Carlo Pedretti details the significance of these reconstructions for our understanding of Leonardo’s oeuvre.

Leonardo’s Lost Robots @ Amazon

Leonardo’s Lost Robots @ Springer

Leonardo’s Lost Robot Knight – San Diego Museum Exhibit

Here is a treat for all you folks from San Diego, an exhibit on a robot knight based on Leonardo Da Vinci’s designs. (Click on the image for a larger view.) Here is an excerpt from the site.

In 2003 the Sweeney family acquired, designed an exhibit, and then loaned for exhibit to the San Diego Museum of Man “Leonardo’s Lost Robot Knight.” This medieval robot was built by famous roboticist Mark Rosheim from Leonardo’s drawings for a Discovery Channel program on Da Vinci.

The Memory Cathedral

The Memory Cathedral: A Secret History of Leonardo Da Vinci is an alternative history novel which explores the possibility that what would have happened if Da Vinci’s flying machine had built some of the devices that he had sketched. In this setting however Da Vinci goes to the Eastern Meditteranian and end up working for the Arabs! Da Vinci’s weapons are then unleashed upon the world and cause much destruction.  It is interesting to see famous historical figures meet and interact who actually did not meet in real history. Columbus, Botticelli, Machiavelli and Lorenzo de Medici also make an appearence.

Pasquale’s Angel

Pasquale’s Angel by Paul J. McAuley is set in an alternative Renaissance where Leonardo da Vinci, known as the Great Engineer in the novel, concentrates his efforts more on his inventions than his art with the result that he almost single handedly launches the industrial revolution a few hundred years earlier than it happened. Almost overnight what would have been the great artists of the Renaissance are are overshadowed by the new inventions. The novel is a murder mystery where someone in Raphael’s household is killed and the protagonist Pasquale gets involved in the investigation along with Machiavelli who is a journalist in Florence! It should be noted that Pasquale’s Angel is also the recipient of the Philip K. Dick award in Science Fiction.


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Knowing and Doing

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“I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” - Leonardo Da Vinci