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Leonardo da Vinci's car

Da Vinci's car is a vehicle developed from the Renaissance artist/engineer/architect's drawings. The car has a boxy shape and resembles a wagon. It has three wheels. The full-scale model measures 5 feet by 5 feet, 6 inches. Sometimes called the clockwork car because it's propelled by springs, da Vinci's car was designed as a robot, running according to a pre-set course and traveling a few meters at a time. The plans include an alternative steering column, although there is no driver's seat. Leonardo's drawings, rendered around 1478, illustrate the first known concept for a self-propelled vehicle as well as the first one with programmable steering.

According to Professor Carlo Pedretti, a leading Leonardo expert, the inventor probably intended to use his creation to cause a sensation at events in the royal court. Leonardo is perhaps most famous as the painter of the Mona Lisa but was a prolific inventor. His designs included plans for a bicycle, a tank, a robot, a submarine and several different flying machines, including a helicopter.

Leonardo's plans for the vehicle were discovered in 1905 by Girolamo Calvi, an Italian academic and da Vinci studies pioneer. Calvi called the design "Leonardo's Fiat." Since that time, scholars have theorized about how the car might work. In 1997, Professor Pedretti identified coiled springs, hidden underneath the car in drums, as its means of propulsion. Pedretti teamed with American robotics expert Mark Rosheim and set to work creating models of the car.

In 2004, the Museum of History and Science in Florence, Italy mounted an exhibition of three models of Leonardo's car. The exhibit included copies of the original drawings and an interactive simulation. Several viewers commented on the vehicle's resemblance to NASA's "Spirit," a space vehicle used on Mars.

This was last updated in March 2009

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