Leonardo da Vinci is widely regarded as having one of the greatest minds in all of human history.
While he’s famous for his paintings, sketches and designs of flying machines, he was capable of so much more, and hindered only by his lack of access to modern technology.
Da Vinci’s genius, love of research, and natural curiosity led him to fill countless notebooks with his observations about the world.
Here’s Business Insider with why he was largely unheralded on that front:
While da Vinci was widely recognized as a great artist among his contemporaries, his scientific and technological genius wasn’t as well regarded, particularly because many of his theories and findings went unpublished during his lifetime.
Turns out he was way ahead of his time. Here are 11 ideas and predictions that da Vinci made about technology and the natural world that were eventually proven right.
1. War Tanks
While da Vinci was working under the patronage of Ludovico Sforza, the Duke of Milan, he came up with an idea for an armoured “fighting vehicle.”
As shown in da Vinci’s sketches, his armoured vehicle took inspiration from a turtle’s shell. The conical car was designed to move in any direction and came equipped with a number of light cannons. Like many of the genius’ inventions, the idea was simply fantastical; it couldn’t possibly have been realized at the time he thought it up.
Da Vinci scholars have noted that his design had a fatal flaw, which they believe was a deliberate attempt to ensure that the tanks would never be built and used in warfare.
2. Machine Guns
Apart from “fighting vehicles”, da Vinci also designed a “machine gun” cannon.
…da Vinci sketched a 33-barreled organ, which three rows of 11 guns each. In theory, one row would fire as another would cool and the third would load, so that soldiers using the device could fire upon their enemies with no interruption.
Archaeologists actually found a cannon dating back to the 15th century that they believe was based on da Vinci’s design.
The scientist had an idea for ships that could travel underwater.
Realizing how dangerous this could be in the wrong hands (because such a ship could be used to covertly sink another ship), da Vinci kept his primitive submarine designs a secret “because of the evil nature of men who practice assassination at the bottom of the sea.”
He’s probably rolling in his grave.
Da Vinci is famous for his ahead-of-their-time flying machine sketches.
The “aerial screw” – essentially a man-powered helicopter – was another one of da Vinci’s fantastical inventions dreamt up but (at the time) impossible to bring into reality.
An actual helicopter wouldn’t be built until the mid-20th century, but da Vinci’s version is considered one of the earliest prototypes, if not the first. It was just one of several contemplated inventions da Vinci cooked up as part of his obsession with human flight.
In 2013, a team of inventors managed to pull off da Vinci’s idea, achieving the world’s first man-powered (as opposed to machine-powered) helicopter flight.
When da Vinci wasn’t designing war machines, he came up with some clever household appliances.
Scholar Alessandro Vezzosi believes that da Vinci conceptualized the cooling machine while still under the patronage of the Sforzas in Milan circa 1492. Da Vinci’s sketch shows an intricate systems of bellows, leather chambers, and spouts that seem pretty bulky for something that doesn’t actually keep all that much cool.
This is considered the earliest known attempt at refrigeration.
The inventor’s vision of a parachute was made of sealed linen cloth and was held up by wooden poles.
It’s again unlikely that da Vinci ever tested this out himself. Moreover, modern testing proved that the heaviness of the primitive parachute would have proven dangerous, putting the jumper at risk of injury once they landed.
Still, he saw it coming.
7. Human Evolution
Before Darwin turned everything upside down with his theory of evolution, da Vinci had his suspicions.
According to The Guardian, da Vinci’s study of comparative anatomy allowed him to observe the close relation of the two species. As part of an outline for a book about anatomy, he wrote about “the description of man, which includes that of such creatures as are almost of the same species, as Apes, Monkeys and the like, which are many.”
He didn’t make a big deal out of it, because he assumed it was obvious.
8. Solar Power
Before Eskom and load shedding increased the desire for solar power in South Africa, da Vinci designed a solar power system to heat water for Florence.
While he was working for the Vatican, da Vinci experimented with “burning mirrors” and predicted that these concave reflective devices could be used to focus sunlight and harness it. In his conceptualized solar power system, these mirrors were used to heat water.
Speaking of solar panels – did you Capetonians sort out that registration process?
Ah, the calculator – the thing your maths teacher said you had to learn to live without because you “won’t have one all the time”.
Then they invented the smartphone.
A hundred years before German astronomer and mathematician Wilhelm Schickard built his “calculating clock,” da Vinci sketched out plans for a calculating apparatus of his own.
And we are eternally grateful.
People usually think of Galileo when they think of the telescope, but da Vinci might have actually invented it a century earlier.
Within the Codex Leicester, da Vinci reportedly wrote a note to himself reading “Make eyeglasses to see the moon larger.” There’s no evidence regarding whether he actually ever made such a device; the first known telescope was created about 100 years later.
Still – what a to-do list.
Yep, he saw Boston Dynamics coming long before they started fuelling our nightmares.
Da Vinci also designed what may have been the very first humanoid robot.
The inventor’s “armoured knight” was capable of sitting up, waving its arms, moving its head, and opening and closing its jaw. This robotic knight was made up of a knight suit that was filled with gears and wheels connected to a pulley and cable system, enabling the primitive “robot” to move on its own.
So robots are terrifying regardless of which century they come from.
Nice to know there are some things we can count on.
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