The infinite genius of Leonardo da Vinci, what else! The modernity of some of his ideas or intuitions still leaves you speechless today. Flying machines, prototypes of tanks, hydraulic systems and even robots. Yes, the Master’s insatiable thirst for knowledge for the "perfect machine" did not stop only at the anatomical examination we all know. If thanks to the section of corpses and other experiments Leonardo deepened the mysteries of the human body, why not try to replicate at least its movements?
Leonardo's prototype of a humanoid machine (conceived around 1495) can be found in some notes of his immense production as well as in the Codex Atlanticus, a monumental work in which most of master’s writings were collected, inherited from his pupil Francesco Melzi. Because of the vast interests embraced by the Tuscan genius, it is difficult to reconstruct exactly the events of this project. Simple desire to recreate mechanically the human being or tool of war too early for that era (as was his project of a machine gun)? In fact the most credited thesis is that Leonardo had built the mechanical knight to impress the guests at the court of Ludovico Sforza during a party.
However, there is no evidence to date that Leonardo actually built his mechanical knight. The discovery of this project dates back to 1950, thanks to in-depth studies by the historian Carlo pedretti on the Codex Atlanticus. Later it was possible for scholars to build a model following the written instructions left by Leonardo himself. The first of these was made in 1996 by a robotics expert in the USA. In 2007, following complex studies on the messy sheets scattered between Codex and Leonardian notebooks, also the Italian laboratory leonardo3 built a version of the automatic Knight.
According to Leonardo’s instructions, the machine could replicate some simple human movements thanks to a system of levers and cables that controlled separately the upper and lower parts of the body. Externally it looked like a 15th century armor, but containing a complex mechanism of pins, supports and gears. Regardless of its actual implementation or not at the time, it is astonishing to think of Leonardo’s farsightedness and his inventions, which still seem to us to be too advanced.