Leonardo da Vinci’s robotic knight.

Mentions of Leonardo da Vinci’s merits are always present in discussions of ancient robots. It is not surprising that Leonardo’s genius attempted to create artificial humans and animals.

By studying Heron’s work and combining it with his own knowledge of anatomy, metallurgy and sculpture, Leonardo created his own artificial creatures. Through his understanding of the mechanics of human and animal movements, he developed mechanical models of muscles and joints. Perhaps a few pages from Leonardo’s Codex Atlanticus notebook were devoted to robotics.

For a competition in Milan, Leonardo built his own armored knight that could move on its own. Using pulleys, weights and gears, the knight could sit down, stand up, move its head and raise its visor. In 2002, roboticist Mark Rosheim recreated the knight using descriptions left over from that time. Leonardo’s robotic designs were so effective that they served as inspiration for the robots Rosheim created at NASA.

Another of Leonardo’s works was a lion that he presented to King Francis I of France in 1515. The lion could walk on its own, and its chest would open when it stopped and bouquets of roses and lilies would emerge from it. In 2009, this lion was recreated from Leonardo’s drawings.

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