The $2,200 waste paper basket

Zero gravity art!

Leonardo da Vinci’s robot: The first analog computer ever

In 1515, Leonardo da Vinci presented the king of France with a mechanical lion robot. Driving under its own control, it wandered through the crowds at the court, approached the king — then opened its chest to reveal a bouquet of lilies.

According to robot design guru Mark Elling Rosheim, this lion was based on an almost totally-ignored invention of da Vinci’s: A three-wheeled robot cart. The cart controlled itself via a cam-shaft-driven guidance device — making it arguably the first analog computer in history. Rosheim has done incredible research documenting the history of this robot cart, and even built a virtual version of it (check out a video showing it here.)

And dig this: Rosheim theorizes that da Vinci’s robot cart was inspired by The Iliad. In Book 18, Homer describes a flock of three-wheeled, autonomous robot tripods, created by Hephaistos to guard his castle walls:

…since he was working on twenty tripods which were to stand against the wall of his strong-founded dwelling. And he had set golden wheels underneath the base of each one so that of their own motion they could wheel into the immortal gathering, and return to his house: a wonder to look at.

Rosheim spoke at MIT today and totally fried my noodle.

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I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

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