Who Invented the First Robot?

One of the most prolific inventors of all time conceived the plans for a robotic knight. Some of his other groundbreaking ideas included an instrument to measure wind speed; a helicopter; a parachute; an armored car; a triple barrel cannon, a hydraulic power saw, scuba gear, scissors and a revolving bridge which could be packed up and transported by armies on the move to be able to cross bodies of water.  Can you guess the name of this famous Italian genius?

Early Robotics

Although we can’t prove who was the very first inventor of a working humanoid automaton, early conceivers of robots included:  Ctesibius, a Greek engineer who made water clocks with automatons or movable figures (circa 270 BC); Greek mathematician, Archytas of Tarentum, who envisioned a steam-powered mechanical bird he called “The Pigeon,” and Hero of Alexandria (circa 10-70 AD) who innovated the idea of a robot that could speak. In ancient China, an account about an automaton is found in text written in the 3rd century BC, in which King Mu is presented with a life-size, human-shaped mechanical figure.

Genius at Work

Who may have invented the first working robot?  One of the most famous inventors of all time:  Leonardo da Vinci. In 1495, he conceived a robotic knight, which may have been the very first human-like automaton created, beyond conceptual stage, in mankind’s history.

Da Vinci was fascinated by human anatomy and spent long hours dissecting corpses in order to figure out how the human body worked. This gave him an understanding of how muscles propelled bone. He reasoned that these same principles could be applied to a machine. Although the knight does not presently exist, most historians believe he built a working model which was supposedly used to entertain at parties thrown by his wealthy patron, Duke Lodovico Sforza.

Da Vinci’s sketchbook showing the robot plans was discovered in the 1950’s and in 2003 an exhibit called “Leonardo’s Lost Robot Knight” was offered by the San Diego Museum. A working model of da Vinci’s medieval robot had been faithfully built to specs for the exhibit by famous roboticist Mark Rosheim. According to Da Vinci’s notes, the knight could stand, sit, raise its visor, independently maneuver its arms, and had an anatomically correct jaw. Clad in heavy German-Italian medieval armor, it was outfitted with a system of pulleys, gears, levers and cranks. Rosheim’s robot, based on da Vinci’s design, was found to be fully functional.

Some of the concepts behind the construction of da Vince’s robot have subsequently been used by Rosheim for the design of planetary exploration robots for NASA. So da Vinci’s genius, it seems, continues to touch our everyday lives today.





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