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We all know about Leonardo Da Vinci, the artist famous for the enigmatic Mona Lisa painting who also has a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle named after him. He is known worldwide primarily for his art however Da Vinci was something of a jack of all trades. He studied and researched fields including science, engineering, anatomy, painting, sculpting, architecture, botany, music and literature. Many argue that he was one of the smartest men to have ever walked this earth, a true genius in every sense of the word.Whilst his sketch books are full of wonderful ideas and inventions, the vast majority of them never made it to construction. This was mainly due to him either losing interest in his work or being unable to find a patron to finance the project to fruition. The other obstacle he faced was that because his designs were so ahead of their time, the 15th century just didn’t have the tools or resources to build them. Due to this, many of his ideas where jotted down in his notebooks but never made public. Many of his inventions were re-invented long after he had passed and his notebooks were discovered and studied. Here we are going to look at a few that could have changed the course of history had they been realised.
Not the most exciting invention to start off with but the ball bearing was integral to the success of many of Da Vinci’s designs. In the modern age, this still holds true. Ball bearings are essential for many mechanical devices to operate as they reduce significant amounts of friction between two surfaces. Whilst the concept of frictionless movement can be traced back to the Roman Empire, Da Vinci’s notebooks were the first practical designs of the concept. Due to Da Vinci’s notes never seeing the light of day, it fell to Philip Vaughan to be credited with the first modern patent of the ball bearing in 1794.
AKA the Ariel Screw, is arguably one of his most famous designs and one of the coolest. With blades made of linen, this device worked very similar to a modern-day helicopter. When rotated they were intended to create lift, enabling the device to take off. Whilst the principles of modern helicopter flight are there, the design itself was more than likely unable to actually fly.
Or more accurately named, the Ornithopter. This device was inspired by Da Vinci’s research of birds (and bats) from which he created a device with flappy wings which would have allowed humans to fly through the air in a similar vein. Modern research has shown that the while the device would have most probably been able to fly, it would never have been able to lift-off in the first place. Whilst the blueprint isn’t like that of a modern-day aircraft, the influence of his drawings can clearly be seen throughout flight designs for the next 400 years.
What goes up must also come down. Although Da Vinci had a clear desire to take flight and soar through the skies, he was also aware that if one fell from the sky, they wold probably die upon impact with the ground. With this in mind, Da Vinci set about making a device that would overcome this hurdle. His design was essentially a large triangular tent made from linen with a wooden frame at the bottom. As with many Da Vinci designs, the credit for the first parachute goes to Frenchman Sebastian Lenormand in 1783.
Ok, so they’re not the modern-day pieces of technological wizardry we see today but Da Vinci created an early known example of humanoid automation which was operated via a series of pulleys and levers. This rudimentary design recreated his anatomical observations of the human muscular structure (and is also one of the few designs that were actually built).
Whilst the British are credited with the first use of a modern-day tank during WWI at the battle of Flers-Courcelette, the concept had been around for a while. Da Vinci was the first person to design an armoured tank while working for the Duke of Milan. The vehicle was powered by 8 men and had 36 guns surrounding it giving the tank a full 360 degree shooting range. Whilst the design appears to have a flaw, in that the powering cranks made the front and rear wheels rotate in different directions, many scholars believe this was intentional as Da Vinci was a pacifist at heart and probably didn’t want his design stolen and recreated by others.
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