04 July 2009

Da Vinci Machines Exhibition

On our many trips to South Bank over the last few months, we've noticed a tent being built in front of QPAC and wondered what it was. Then the signage went up...... an exhibition of Leonardo Da Vinci's Machines! I'm not sure who was more excited - Scott or I! The exhibition opened on 6 June but we wanted to wait a little while so that it wasn't too crowded when we went. The perfect opportunity presented itself when Kerry and Shawn came up for the weekend (more about their visit in the next update!).

Our tickets

Shawna Lisa

Scotta Lisa

Amanda Lisa


It turns out that Da Vinci, aside from being an absolute genius, was quite a sadistic bastard! You really didn't want to be on receiving end of any of the war machines he designed!

I'm really going to cheat in this update. The captions to the photos are going to be copied directly from the description board which accompanied each model. If you're not interested, then skip this blog. I promise I won't be offended (much!). To try and paraphrase all the descriptions will take a month of Sundays and I don't know that I could do any more succinctly than has already been done. Incidentally, his groups of drawings, calculations and descriptions are known as Codex. The dates on each description contains a C. - I'm assuming this is the date of the Codex.

I couldn't help thinking about how so many of our friends and family back in SA would so enjoy seeing this exhibition. This blog is for you. I hope I've managed to capture enough to give you a decent impression.

NAVAL TANK (C. 1503 - 1505)
This extraordinary war machine was designed by Leonardo to impress his patrons with new and improved military devices. This design is a culmination of his previous ideas and sketches, and features a ship with a circular platform on which is mounted a series of symmetrically opposed cannons. These cannons would need to be fired simultaneously so that the boat isn't thrown off course by the recoil of the explosions.

THE SCORPION (C. 1484 - 1486)
When his mind turned to naval warfare, Leonardo found himself inspired by the great Roman engineers of the past. Following on from their example, Leonardo invented ships equipped with gigantic scythes designed to destroy the masts, hulls and sails of enemy ships, leaving them to sink or flounder.
The remarkable destructive force fo the Scorpion's massive scythe lay not only in the sheer devastating power of its instantaneous drop, but also in its manoeuvrability, which was achieved by a revolving platform. The scythe was lifted by a crank and gears system, and its rapid drop together with this meachism ensured the effectiveness of the machine. In addition, the ship was also equipped with strong leather-covered screens with secured entrances to protect the rowers from overhead fire.

NAVAL CANNON (C. 1483 - 1485)
Naval warfare became one of Leonardo's principle areas of interest. He invented this military vessel featuring a large square cannon attached to a revolving platform, which enabled it to be fired in any direction. It was designed to fire combustible shells at enemy ships to sink them.

BOAT WITH DOUBLE HULL (C. 1484 - 1486)
Another of Leonardo's modern inventions, now applied to all ships, is the double hull. A useful system designed for use in maritime warfare. The double hull could prevent the boat from sinking if the outer hull were breached. Perhaps no other machine designed and described by Leonardo da Vinci expressed both the originality of his imagination and the simplicity of his ideas as clearly as the double hull.

This device was designed to allow divers to breathe underwater, permitting them to move almost unseen beneath the surface. This model had a floating buoy to keep the breathing tubes above water and flexible tubes to facilitate movement. Rather than force the diver to inhale air directly through a tube, an exhaustive process only possible at shallow depths due to underwater pressue, Leonardo's apparatus makes it possible for compressed air to be forced down the tube to the diver. In these drawings it is possible to see details in which Leonardo had clearly anticipated modern solutions for breathing underwater.

LIFEBUOY (C. 1487 - 1490)
Just as it is used today, the lifebuoy was invented by Leonardo to save someone from drowning. It is made from waterproof leather and could be filled with air to increase its volume and buoyancy.
In his words "Jump into the sea and allow yourself to be carried by the waves... always keep in your mouth the air tube and if now and again you require to take a breath of air and the sea foam prevents you, you may draw breath from within the apparatus."

CAM HAMMER (sorry, date was cut off in my pic)
The cam is a system used to convert circular motion to alternate linear motion. In this case used to move the hammer up and down.
Leonardo often made use of cams. The cam is incredibly useful here becasue it ensures that the hammer hits exactly the same spot with the same force, and if you turn the handle at an even pace, it will also do so at a regularly spaced interval. Furthermore, cams can be linked up, so you could easily have multiple cams and hammers moving together by turning only one handle.

This principle is still widely used today. A series of balls are placed between two moving surfaces that would otherwise rub together creating a great deal of friction that would damage the parts, thereby eliminating the friction and preserving the parts. Leonardo further improved upon this idea by designing a ring-shaped track along which the balls could move without coming into contact with each other.

This device for lifting water cannot be considered one of Leonardo's inventions, as this method has been known since the days of the ancient Egyptians and was later studied in the Greek world by Archimedes, one of the greatest scientists of classical antiquity.
Leonardo was one of the few thinkers of the time to understand the principle of its use (the length of the screw must be inclined at a 45 degree angle creating a right angle from its height to its base, as dictated by Pythagoras' theorem). He also drew plans to implement a system of screws to raise water to dwellings above ground level.

FLYWHEEL (C. 1497)
The flywheel is a device designed to keep maximum angular momentum (ie longer spinning time). These four balls are Leonardo's design for a flywheel - a heavy device that can store the energy it receiveds, then release it evenly to maintain a constant speed. Leonardo worked on ways to make the flywheel spin for longer while being easier to start.
Today flywheels are used in many everyday machines such as the exercise bike.

After his studies on bird anatomy, Leonardo decided to apply the same laws to his flying machines. He directed his interst towards a united wing, which was supposed to have a single cloth or canvas stretched over a rigid skeletal frame. This particular design is based on his study of bats.

This instrument was designed to help regulate flight. Its purpose is to show if an aircraft is flying at an angle. It consists of a pendulum suspended inside a glass bell to protect it from the effects of air currents. During flight, the pendulum inside the inclinometer would shift as the flying machine tilted in its journey. The pendulum would come to rest at an observable angle, thereby showing the pilot the plane's tilt, allowing the pilot to make the necessary adjustments to steady the craft.

FLYING MACHINE (C. 1485 - 1487)
This is one of Leonardo's most famous drawings. It is very precise and accompanied by useful notes which explain how it functions. According to the notes, it is designed so that the man lies stretched out on the platform with his feet in the stirrups, one of which raises the wing while the other lowers it. This is accomplished by a series of three pairs of ropes linked by a system of pulleys which are attached to the various wing joints to enable the wings to be bent, rotated, opened and closed - all movements that enable the pilot to maintain balance or change direction.

In this experimental model, Leonardo set out to test the capacity of human force to efficiently flap the machine's wing and therefore verify, experimentally, if the force of a repidly flapped artificial wing could support the body of a man in flight. Leonardo thought that if it was possible to lower the long lever quickly enough, the wing would be able to lift the plank mounted on it, designed to be about the weight of a human. he calculated the necessary wingspan to lift a human based on his observations of birds, working out that the wings would have to be twelve meters long and twelve meters wide to be able to lift a human.

This is a ball bearing based on an extraordinary sketch by Leonardo which depicted both the top and side views - even drawing the object in this way was revolutionary. The structure has eight balls moving freely, while the spools keep them moving in the correct direction. The ball and spindle system reduces friction, allowing the top platform to turn easily even when it is supporting a heavy load.

The study of optics was of particular interest to Leonardo. This particular creation was probably designed and built as a royal entertainment. This eight-sided mirror chamber enabled observers to see themselves completley and from all sides without moving. A hole drilled into the side of one panel also gave the chamber a practical purpose by giving observers a 360 degree view of an object within it without having to move it around.

This project demonstrates how ingenious and futuristic Leonardo's ideas were. His parachute had to be made of linen cut in the shape of a pyramid, with each side to measure seven metres. "With this mechanism anyone could have flung himself from any height without risk". While many of Leonardo's designs were never tested, the parachute has been. In 2008 a Swiss parachutist made a successful jump from 2000 feet using a parachute built to Leonardo's specifications, exclaiming htat it was "a perfect jump" thought rather tricky to steer!

Shawn trying out the gear shift

JACK (C. 1480)
This machine is easy to understand for anyone who has ever changed a car tyre. When the crank is turned it rotates the cogs, which in turn moves the toothed rod up or down thereby raising or lowering the attached load.

The drill was designed to move up and down by means of one screw turned by one or two men. The drill creates a funnel-shaped space between the earth's surface and the screw head to prevent the earth falling on the heads of the workers.

Heavens above! What a look!!!
AIR SCREW (C. 1489)

One of Leonardo's most famous designs; the 'aerial screw' is interpreted by many as an ancestor of modern helicopters. This machine was to be constructed in wood with the screw's blade made of linen with a metal border. It was designed with a 4.8 metre radius, and was to be powered either by four men pushing levers as they ran around the shaft's base, or by means of a rope quickly unravelled from around the axle. It is clear that the mechanism so conceived could never have taken off, but the idea remains that with the force of an adequate motor, the machine could actually have spun itself into the air. Leonardo himself had included at the base of the craft a mysterious box which the Artisans of Florence discovered to be a spring powered launch mechanism.

GLIDER (C. 1493 - 1495)
In the beginning of the 1590's, Leonardo abandoned his work on flying machines with flapping wings, moving on to those with partially fixed wings. This reflects his progress in aeronautical research, although this craft is still unable to sustain human flight and is erroneously based on multiplying human force. At this stage Leonardo is moving towards gliders, in which the pilot directs the machine, changing direction through subtly shifting his body.
In line with his keen observation of nature, Leonardo calculated the wing dimensions necessary to maintain human flight by studying large birds like pelicans.

Leonardo realised that two-wheeled carts have a fundamental problem; when the cart goes around a corner, the outer wheel has to go further and at a faster pace than the inner wheel. To solve this problem, Leonardo devised a way to transmit motion through the axle connecting the two wheels. A crank turns the cog wheel which links to the lantern rocket that is linked to one of the wheels, making that wheel turn faster.

SPRING-POWERED CAR (C.1487 - 1490)
This is one of Leonardo's most famous inventions. It is a self-moving car designed to be powered by leaf-springs (balestre) and designed to move in a specific pattern. While the car was self-propelled, an operator would have been needed to tighten the leaf springs that power the wheels. Energy stored in the leaf springs by winding them up tightly was transmitted to the driving wheels by means of a simple set of gears. A single small wheel at the back was controlled by a rudder, enabling the car to be steered from the rear. It is believed that this particular machine was originally designed for use on the stage, as Leonardo often designed complex theatrical devices for his patrons.

This is one of the many mysteries still surrounding Leonardo's life and work. During restoration of the Codex Atlanticus, this drawing was found between two glued-in pages. The lack of detail in the drawing and the signature of Leonardo's pupil, Salai, lead us to believe that Salai may have drawn this image by sketching a model seen in his master's workshop - a common practice for apprentices of the time.
Believed to have been created for use in theatrical performances, the bicycle's modern features and the fact that it uses chains had many scholars convinced that it was a hoax until the rediscovery of the lost Codex Madrid in 1966. Notes and sketches found in the Codex clearly show that Leonardo had all the technical knowledge required to build the bicycle.

CHAINS (C.1497)
Leonardo studied many different types of flexible chains which were used to create continuous motion from one part of a machine to another. The chain is also a key feature in one of Leonardo's most famous & controversial inspired creations; the bicycle. The chains would not be reinvented until the industrial revolution in England 300 years after Leonardo's famous drawing.

Leonardo often used this system of producing motion in his machines to change the direction of movement from a vertical to a horizontal plane. Leonardo pointed out the main problem with this design, which is that the cogs on the wheel wear down quickly when moving heavy loads. This paved the way for the invention of his 'corkscrew' mechanism.

Sorry, didn't photograph the info board for this one, but hink it's pretty self-explanatory...

Dad, this one's just for you!

Leonardo designed this excavating machine to dig trenches. The shovel of this machine is set in motion by releasing the balance weight. The large rocking half-wheel helps to lower the balance weight which lifts the shovel. As the weight swings up and down the shovel digs into the earth to create a hole. When the hole is deep enough, the machine is moved along to dig a new stretch of earth, thereby excavating a trench. Modern backhoes work on the same principle.


-jw said...

Neat! I saw the adverts for it, but didn't make the connection. Is it still on? :)

Anonymous said...

Incredible! I will keep an eye out for it, although it probably came here first dammit... wasnt he just so far ahead of his time. What a lonely life to be that intelligent.. bit like myself really... hhheeehahahahahahahha