We're missing about 14,000 pages of da Vinci's notes, but what has survived is a collection of detailed schematics including those of an apparently working robot. And 20th century reconstructions did indeed prove that it would actually work. It was dressed in German-Italian armor and had the appearance of a knight. It had a broad range of motion, including the ability to wave its arms around, (to warn the peasants that - holy s**t - there's a robot coming) it sat up and moved its head (to follow their fleeing paths) and it had a functional jaw (to devour their fear for fuel). Oh yeah, and some people think it probably could play the drums. That's right. While the rest of Europe was 100 percent convinced that food went bad because of witchcraft and soap stole your soul, da Vinci was forming the start of an all-robot rock band.
How Did He Do That?
From what historians have been able to piece together, the robot was an amalgam of two distinct working apparatuses; one of them controlled the upper body, and the other, the lower. Cranks and cables seem to be involved, and it was believed that the chest, which contained that mechanism that powered the robot knight, contained machinery that could also be programmed.
So as we understand it: Magic.
Most likely the whole thing ran on a system involving water and/or weights but, given da Vinci's duck-s**t insane level of ingenuity, we wouldn't be surprised to find that it ran off a combination of Zero Point Energy, Atomic Power, and Rock 'N Fucking Roll.
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For more reasons why it's a good thing da Vinci died, check out 9 Inventions that Prove Leonardo da Vinci Was a Supervillain. Or check out some other inventors that are rolling in their graves right now, 6 Geniuses Who Saw Their Inventions Go Terribly Wrong.
And stop by our Top Picks (Updated 2.17.2010) to see Cracked's robot (it's just Jack wearing tinfoil).
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