The most interesting and possibly the most creepy attraction at the International Robot Exhibition 2015 in Japan this week is undoubtedly an extremely lifelike robotic version of artist, inventor and all-around genius Leonardo da Vinci. What would this Leonardo da Robot think of da Vinci’s own robot, the mechanical knight he designed and demonstrated in 1495?
The da Vinci robot was developed by Minoru Asada from the University of Osaka as a teaching tool to educate Japanese kids about da Vinci. In addition to being eerily lifelike, the da Vinci robot speaks fluent Japanese, something even the real Italian genius couldn’t do.
What would da Vinci think of his android doppelganger? He may not have been too impressed since he created his own robot over 500 years ago. Leonardo the inventor was a wizard with gears, pulleys and weights – as seen in drawings of his versions of a clock, an air conditioner and a self-propelled cart. All of those components and more went into his robotic knight.
Commissioned for a pageant in Milan, the robotic knight was a set of knight’s armor housing a complex arrangement of pulleys and gears that allowed it to sit, stand, turn its head and lift the visor on its helmet. The robot was reportedly demonstrated at the pageant but no pieces or complete drawings survived.
However, enough partial drawings were found to allow robot maker Mark Rosheim to build a working model of da Vinci’s robotic knight in 2002. Besides the powers given by da Vinci, Rosheim’s version also walked and waved – perfect for a robot parade. Rosheim said at the time that da Vinci designed the robotic knight to be easy to build and he used some of the designs in his own robots built for NASA.
So Leonardo da Vinci designed and built a working robot in 1495 and it only took another 500 years to design and built a robot that at least looks like da Vinci. What we need now is the next generation of roboticists like Mark Rosheim to combine them all into a robot that can think, design and build like da Vinci.