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Before he began work on the Last Supper, Leonardo Da Vinci designed the first humanoid robot in Western civilization

David Goran

Leonardo’s robot, also known as Leonardo’s mechanical knight, was a humanoid automaton designed by the great engineer and painter of the renaissance period, Leonardo da Vinci.

This is one of Leonardo’s least-known designs and he probably developed it during his extensive studies and dissections of the human body.

Model of Leonardo’s robot with inner workings, on display in Berlin. Photo Credit

Model of Leonardo’s robot with inner workings, on display in Berlin. Photo Credit

The schema was developed around the year 1495. However, it was rediscovered only in the 1950s (when Carlo Pedrettim, a professor from the University of California, suggested some of Leonardo’s designs could be for a robot).

Since the discovery of the sketchbook, the robot has been built faithfully based on Leonardo’s design and was found to be fully functional.

The robot is thought to have been designed just prior to the period of the Last Supper, in 1495. Photo Credit

The robot is thought to have been designed just prior to the period of the Last Supper, in 1495. Photo Credit

It is believed, that Leonardo demonstrated his “mechanical knight” in 1495 in Milano at a celebration hosted by Ludovico Sforza, perhaps at the wedding of his niece.

Basically, it is a warrior, clad in medieval armor that is capable of some human-like movements like sitting, opening and closing its arms, moving its head on flexible neck, and opening its visor. The entire automaton system was operated by a series of pulleys and cables.

The design notes for the robot appear in sketchbooks that were rediscovered in the 1950s. Photo Credit

 

Leonardo displayed his automaton at a celebration hosted by Ludovico Sforza at the court of Milan in 1495. Photo Credit

It consisted of two working structures managing the upper and the lower parts of the knight’s body.

The upper half of the robotic knight was controlled by a four-factor system that controlled the movement of the shoulders, hands, elbows, and wrists; while the lower half was controlled by a tri-factor system (moving the hips, knees, legs and ankles).

A modern reconstruction of the robot of Leonardo da Vinci in the Leonardo3 laboratories, in 2007. Photo Credit

Further studies were carried out and in 2002, using several different da Vinci drawings as blueprints, roboticist Mark Elling Rosheim built a complete physical model of the robotic knight, which was able to walk and wave.

Read another story from us: The famous painting “The Virgin and Child with Saint Anne” offers a glimpse into the subconscious of Leonardo da Vinci

Rosheim also used da Vinci’s designs as inspiration for robots he developed for NASA. Models of the robotic knight have been constructed using his design and are on display at many museums.