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Early cybernetical devices
Early cybernetical devices
It could be argued that all the early controlled devices were cybernetic in origin and Leonardo's robot would be no exception. A report from Italy describes how a robot designed 500 years ago is being built in Florence. The clockwork robot is of a knight in armour and it was designed by Leonardo da Vinci in around 1495. This, we were told, was before the artist, scientist and inventor began his work painting The Last Supper.
The announcement of the project was made at the Florence MediArTech, multimedia and cultural heritage show by experts from the city's Institute and Museum of the History of Science. The working model of Leonardo's robot is being built, under much secrecy in the city. The model is said to have a clockwork mechanism and the project is expected to cost around £500,000. The target date for completion is prior to the millennium celebrations when it is expected to form part of a travelling exhibition. The deputy director of the Institute, Mara Miniatti said that:
...as far as we are aware his ideas mostly only ever went on paper. So this wonderful project is, above all, a homage to him. The computer reconstruction, to our surprise, proved that the robot designs in fact worked. Now the problem is less mechanical but rather that of finding the money.
The report says that much like the armoured horsemen of his day, Leonardo's robot does not walk, but can bend its legs, enabling it to sit down and to standup. It can also move its arms, hands and head, and open its mouth. Thanks to an automatic drum roll within his mechanism, the robot can even "talk". The historical background to Leonardo's robot is that it was designed for theatrical use at the Visconti-Sforza court in Milan, and wears the armour which is described as "Italo-German" in style.
It is said that the robot's proportions represent an advance on some of Leonardo's earlier anatomical drawings. The inner workings of the robot resemble those of an elaborate antique clock mechanism. For the model the mechanism is set behind the knight's translucent armour so that its quirky and elaborate driving actions can be seen.
A number of projects have been recently started to reproduce the earlier technological devices, such as the Babbage machines and more recently the pioneering computing machines such as the Manchester "Baby", whose 50th anniversary is being celebrated this year. Few scientists realised, however, that the 500th anniversary project to rebuild a robot was also taking place.