If the term “Renaissance man” could be aptly applied to anyone, it would have to be the actual Renaissance man Leonardo da Vinci.
Painter, sculptor, inventor, scientist, futurist – da Vinci, as you no doubt know, was all these things and much more. Scholars believe he was the greatest painter of all time, and his scientific contributions were way, way ahead of his time.
For instance, according to Discover magazine, da Vinci found evidence debunking creationism long before Charles Darwin set sail on the Beagle. He studied river erosion and came away certain that the Earth was much older than the Bible said it was, as well as that it was changing sea levels, rather than the Biblical flood, that were responsible for marine fossils that scientists uncovered on mountaintops.
While we admire da Vinci’s artistic genius just as much as anybody else, we have to admit we’re even more enamored of his inventing prowess (we are, after all, a product design and development firm!).
Here are a just a few of his most amazing ideas, most of which he came up with before the technology to create them had even been considered.
The helicopter, or “flying screw”
Possibly inspired by Archimedes’ Screw, a screw-shaped water pump invented by the ancient Greek polymath, da Vinci’s flying screw is the first known drawing of any helicopter-like machine.
The machine features a screw-shaped blade and a supporting structure and circular platform that would support two people. The machine was designed to be powered by those two people, who would each hold onto one end of a wooden shaft and walk in a circle, turning the blade.
The flying screw couldn’t work because the materials da Vinci had to work with – wood, canvas, rope – were too heavy for a human-powered machine. However, he had much of the concept of for what would later become the helicopter correct – 400 years before the first helicopter ever flew, in 1493.
The miter lock
Da Vinci’s miter lock, a new type of canal lock, remains one of his most enduring achievements. Still in use today, the miter lock consists of two doors which are mitered – at a 45 degree angle to each other – and therefore work with the force of the water instead of against it.
The miter lock, which da Vinci first sketched in the 1490s, replaced the heavy and unreliable portcullis locks that had been in use up until this point. These locks were simply heavy gates that were raised up and down to allow the water to flow through. Not only were they extremely heavy to maneuver, but they also leaked.
The miter lock, on the other hand, used the force of the flowing water to its benefit: as the water pushed harder on the lock doors, it would force them to close even tighter. Opening this type of lock was also much easier, requiring a single person rather than two people.
Da Vinci was fascinated by water, so it stands to reason that he’d be interested in discovering a way to explore it from below its surface.
While working in Venice in the late 15th century, he designed an apparatus that could be used to allow people to breathe underwater – a very early version of scuba gear. Consisting of a leather helmet with cane breathing tubes, this diving helmet was designed to let soldiers swim underneath enemy ships and sabotage them by cutting holes in their hulls.
The breathing tubes also had rings of steel in them, which would prevent their collapsing due to water pressure. While one end of the tube was connected to the helmet, the other was connected to a float that would keep the ends above water.
Da Vinci never built this apparatus, but a modern diver did – in 2003, diver Jacquie Cozens created a prototype of the design and found that it worked well in shallow water.
There will most likely never be another person with as much genius as Leonardo da Vinci, but if you’re an inventor who needs some help designing your product, manufacturing your product, or setting up a business to sell your product, Pivot can help. Read more about our services here.