Leonardo da Vinci’s Inventions Come to Life as Museum-Quality, Workable Models: A Swing Bridge, Scythed Chariot, Perpetual Motion Machine & More

Perpetual motion is impossible. Even if we don't know much about physics, we all know that to be true — or at least we've heard it from credible enough sources that we might as well believe it. More accurately, we might say that nobody has yet figured out how to make a machine that keeps on going and going and going by itself, without any external energy source. But it hasn't been for lack of trying, and the effort has been on the part of not just crackpots but some of the most impressive minds in human history. Take charter member of that group Leonardo da Vinci, the Renaissance designer of bridges, musical instruments, war machines, and much else beside, whose fascination with the subject also had him imagining the occasional perpetual motion machine.

Our unflagging fascination with Leonardo has fueled the efforts of 21st-century enthusiasts to build his inventions for themselves, even those inventions that previously existed only in his notebooks. In the video above you can see a series of such Leonardo-imagined devices made real in functional model form.




Some of them, like the flywheel, odometer, vertical ball-bearing, and double-decker bridge, have become so common in other forms that we no longer even stop to consider their ingeniousness. Others, like the invader-repelling castle wall defense mechanism and something called a "scythed chariot" — a nasty-looking yet characteristically graceful piece of work — remind of us that, at least in most of the world, we live in less warlike times than Leonardo did.

The video comes from Valeriy Ivanov, who on Youtube specializes in building and demonstrating "working models of perpetual motion machines" as well as "Da Vinci inventions" and "marble machines." (Leonardo's odometer, featured in the video, makes a particularly impressive use of marbles.) "My models of perpetual motion machines are of motorized versions that were built to illustrate how they were supposed to work in the minds of inventors," writes Ivanov. We see not only the mechanics Leonardo and other hopeful inventors must have imagined, but the mesmerizing elegance of Leonardo's designs in particular, such as the video's overbalanced wheel. On a notebook page from 1494, Leonardo told the seekers of perpetual motion to "go and take your place with the alchemists." But now, with the aid of technology unimagined in Leonardo's time — even by Leonardo himself — we can see just how compelling that vision must have been.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Download Beautiful Free Posters Celebrating the Achievements of Living Female STEM Leaders

Remember the posters that decorated your childhood or teenaged bedroom?

Of course you do.

Whether aspirational or inspirational, these images are amazingly potent.

I’m a bit embarrassed to admit what hung over my bed, especially in light of a certain CGI adaptation…

No such worries with a set of eight free downloadable posters honoring eight female trailblazers in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

These should prove evergreen.


Commissioned by Nevertheless, a podcast that celebrates women whose advancements in STEM fields have shaped—and continue to shape—education and learning, each poster is accompanied with a brief biographical sketch of the subject.

Nevertheless has taken care that the featured achievers are drawn from a wide cultural and racial pool.

No shame if you’re unfamiliar with some of these extraordinary women. Their names may not possess the same degree of household recognition as Marie Curie, but they will once they’re hanging over your daughter’s (or son’s) bed.

It’s worth noting that with the exception of the undersung mother of DNA Helix Rosalind Franklin, these are living role models. They are:

Astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison

Robotics pioneer Dr. Cynthia Breazeal

Mathematician Gladys West

Tech innovator Juliana Rotich

Pharmaceutical chemist Tu Youyou

Biopharmacist and women rights advocate Maria da Penha

Biotechnologist Dr. Hayat Sindi

Kudos, too, to Nevertheless for including biographies of the eight female illustrators charged with bringing the STEM luminaries to aesthetically cohesive graphic life: Lidia Tomashevskaya,Thandiwe TshabalalaCamila RosaXu HuiKarina PerezJoana NevesGeneva B, and Juliette Brocal

Listen to Nevertheless’ episode on STEM Role Models here.

Download Nevertheless’ free posters in English here. You can also download zipped folders containing all eight posters translated into Brazilian PortugueseFrenchFrench CanadianGermanItalianSpanish, and Simplified Chinese.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Monday, January 6 when her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domaincelebrates Cape-Coddities (1920) by Roger Livingston Scaife. Follow her @AyunHalliday

David Lynch Turns Twin Peaks into a Virtual Reality Game: Watch the Official Trailer

When David Lynch and Mark Frost's Twin Peaks premiered on ABC in 1990, viewers across America were treated to a televisual experience like none they'd ever had before. Four years earlier, something similar had happened to the unsuspecting moviegoers who went to see Lynch's breakout feature Blue Velvet, an experience described as eye-opening by even David Foster Wallace. A dedicated meditator with an interest in plunging into unexplored realms of consciousness, Lynch tends to bring his audience right along with him in his work, whether that work be cinema, television, visual art, music, or comic strips. Only natural, then, that Lynch would take an interest in the artistic and experiential possibilities of virtual reality.

Last year we featured the first glimpse of a Twin Peaks virtual reality experience in development, revealed at Lynch's Festival of Disruption in Los Angeles. "The best news is that the company developing the game, Collider Games, is giving creative control to Lynch," wrote Ted Mills, and now, with the release of Twin Peaks VR's official trailer, we can get a clearer idea of what Lynch has planned for players. As Laura Snoad writes at It's Nice That, Lynch has used the opportunity to revisit "well-known environments featured in the series, such as the iconic Red Room (the stripy-floored, velvet curtain-clad parallel universe where Agent Cooper meets murdered teen Laura Palmer), the Twin Peaks’ Sheriff’s Department and the pine-filled forest around the fictional Washington town."




This will come as good news indeed to those of us Twin Peaks enthusiasts who've made the pilgrimage to Snoqualmie, North Bend, and Fall City, the real-life Washington towns where Lynch and his collaborators shot the series. But Twin Peak VR will offer a greater variety of challenges than snapping photos of the series' locations and chatting with bemused locals: Snoad writes that each environment is constructed like an escape room. "Solving puzzles to help Agent Cooper and Gordon Cole (the FBI agent played by Lynch himself), players will also meet some of the show’s weird and terrifying characters, from the backwards-speaking inhabitants of the Black Lodge to the terrifying Bob himself."

Available via Steam on Oculus Rift, Vive, and Valve Index this month, with Oculus Quest and PlayStation VR versions scheduled, Twin Peaks VR should give a fair few virtual-reality holdouts a compelling reason to put on the goggles — much as Twin Peaks the show caused the cinéastes of the 1990s to break down and watch evening TV. Enjoying Lynch's work, whatever its medium, has always felt like plunging into a dream: not like watching his dream, but experiencing a dream he's made for us. If virtual-reality technology has finally come anywhere close to the vividness of Lynch's imagination, Twin Peaks VR will mark the next step in his artistic evolution. But for now, to paraphrase no less a Lynch fan than Wallace, the one thing we can say with total confidence is that it will be... Lynchian.

via It's Nice That

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Nikola Tesla Accurately Predicted the Rise of the Internet & Smart Phone in 1926

Certain cult historical figures have served as prescient avatars for the techno-visionaries of the digital age. Where the altruistic utopian designs of Buckminster Fuller provided an ideal for the first wave of Silicon Valley pioneers (a group including computer scientist and philosopher Jaron Lanier and Wired editor Kevin Kelly), later entrepreneurs have hewn closer to the principles of brilliant scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla, who believed, as he told Liberty magazine in 1935, that “we suffer the derangement of our civilization because we have not yet completely adjusted ourselves to the machine age.”

Such an adjustment would come, Tesla believed, only in “mastering the machine”—and he seemed to have supreme confidence in human mastery—over food production, climate, and genetics. We would be freed from onerous labor by automation and the creation of “a thinking machine” he said, over a decade before the invention of the computer. Tesla did not anticipate the ways such machines would come to master us, even though he cannily foresaw the future of wireless technology, computing, and telephony, technologies that would radically reshape every aspect of human life.




In an earlier, 1926, interview in Colliers magazine, Tesla predicted, as the editors wrote, communicating “instantly by simple vest-pocket equipment.” His actual words conveyed a much grander, and more accurate, picture of the future.

When wireless is perfectly applied the whole earth will be converted into a huge brain, which in fact it is…. We shall be able to communicate with one another instantly, irrespective of distance. Not only this, but through television and telephony we shall see and hear one another as perfectly as though were face to face, despite intervening distances of thousands of miles; and the instruments through which we shall be able to do this will be amazingly simple compared with our present telephone. A man will be able to carry one in his vest pocket. 

The complexity of smart phones far outstrips that of the telephone, but in every other respect, Tesla’s picture maps onto the reality of almost 100 years later. Other aspects of Tesla’s future scenario for wireless also seem to anticipate current technologies, like 3D printing, though the kind he describes still remains in the realm of science fiction: “Wireless will achieve the closer contact through transmission of intelligence, transport of our bodies and materials and conveyance of energy.”

But Tesla’s vision had its limitations, and they lay precisely in his techno-optimism. He never met a problem that wouldn’t eventually have a technological solution (and like many other techno-visionaries of the time, he heartily endorsed state-sponsored eugenics). “The majority of the ills from which humanity suffers,” he said, “are due to the immense extent of the terrestrial globe and the inability of individuals and nations to come into close contact.”

Wireless technology, thought Tesla, would help eradicate war, poverty, disease, pollution, and general discontent, when were are “able to witness and hear events—the inauguration of a President, the playing of a world series game, the havoc of an earthquake or the terror of a battle—just as though we were present.” When international boundaries are “largely obliterated” by instant communication, he believed, “a great step will be made toward the unification and harmonious existence of the various races inhabiting the globe.”

Tesla did not, and perhaps could not, foresee the ways in which technologies that bring us closer together than ever also, and at the same time, pull us ever further apart. Read Tesla's full interview here, in which he also predicts that women will become the "superior sex," not by virtue of "the shallow physical imitation of men" but through "the awakening of the intellect."

via Kottke

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

The Virtual Choir: Watch a Choir Conductor Digitally Unite 3500 Singers from Around the World

For decades we've been hearing promises about how communication technology will one day eliminate distance itself, making everyone around the globe feel as if they might as well be in the same room. Such a future would have its downside as well as its upside, but even now, approaching the third decade of the 21st century, it hasn't quite arrived yet. Nevertheless, we've already grown so used to the idea of real-time global collaboration that it takes an extraordinarily ambitious project to let us step back and appreciate the technological reality that makes it possible. Take, for example, conductor Eric Whitacre's Virtual Choir, whose performance of Whitacre's own piece "Lux Arumque" appears above.

"Virtual," here, is a bit of a misnomer, encouraging as it does Gibsonian visions of the 100-percent digital voices of synthetic singers resonating purely in cyberspace. And while Whitacre's project wouldn't have been possible without streaming digital audio and video technology — as well as the infrastructure of what we may as well still call cyberspace — it begins with the real voices of 100-percent analog humans.




185 such humans, to be precise, based in twelve countries, and all of them visible on their separate screens as Whitacre plays the role of conductor on his own. The much larger-scale performance of "Water Night," a piece composed for the poetry of Octavio Paz, brings together 3,746 videos from 73 countries, necessitating a credits sequence longer than the piece itself.

The Virtual Choir grew, as many such immense works do, from a small seed: "It all started with this one young girl who sent me this video of herself singing one of my choral pieces," says Whitacre in this video on the preparation for the Virtual Choir's "Sleep" video. "I was struck so hard by the beauty, the intimacy of it, the sweetness of it, and I thought, 'Boy, it would be amazing if we could get 100 people to do this and cut it all together." The experience of assembling this virtual choir, or even hearing it, shows that "singing together and making music together is a fundamental human experience," and on a scale hardly imaginable a generation or two ago. But on the most basic level, even this new way of making music is merely an expansion of the oldest way of making music: with one human voice, then another, and another.

via Swiss Miss

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or Facebook.

MIT Researchers 3D Print a Bridge Imagined by Leonardo da Vinci in 1502— and Prove That It Actually Works

Photo by Gretchen Ertl, via MIT News

Unfortunate though it may be for the dreamers of the world, we're all judged not by what we imagine, but what we actually do. This goes double for those specifically tasked with creating things in the physical environment, from engineers and architects to inventors and artists. Leonardo da Vinci, the original "Renaissance man," was an engineer, architect, inventor, artist, and more besides, and five centuries after his death we continue to admire him for not just the works of art and technology he realized during his lifetime, but also the ones that never made it off his drawing board (or out of his notebooks). And as we continue to discover, many of the latter weren't just flights of fancy, but genuine innovations grounded in reality.

Take the bridge Leonardo proposed to Sultan Bayezid II, who in 1502 had "sent out the Renaissance equivalent of a government RFP (request for proposals), seeking a design for a bridge to connect Istanbul with its neighbor city Galata," writes MIT News' David L. Chandler. Writing to the sultan, Leonardo describes his design as "a masonry bridge as high as a building, and even tall ships will be able to sail under it."




At the time, such bridges required the support of piers all along their spans, which prevented large ships from passing underneath. But Leonardo's design would do the job with only "a single enormous arch." About ten times longer than the typical bridge of the early 16th century, it took a page from the bridges of ancient Rome, designed as it was to "stand on its own under the force of gravity, without any fasteners or mortar to hold the stone together."

Image via Wikimedia Commons

Alas, Leonardo, who had better luck with Italian patrons, didn't win this particular commission. His bridge design must at least have impressed the sultan with its sheer ambition, but would it have held up? A team at MIT consisting of graduate Karly Bast, professor John Ochsendorf, and undergraduate Michelle Xie recently put it to the test, scrutinizing the material Leonardo left behind, replicating the geological conditions of the proposed site, and building a 1:500 scale model out of 126 3D-printed blocks. Not only could the model bear weight using only the strength of its own geometry, the design also came with other features, such as stabilizing abutments (which Chandler compares to the legs of "a standing subway rider widening her stance to balance in a swaying car") to keep the bridge upright in that earthquake-prone area of modern-day Turkey.

That particular location didn't get a bridge until 1845, when Valide Sultan ordered the construction of the first, wooden, Galata Bridge. It stood for 18 years until its replacement by another wooden bridge, part of an infrastructure-building push before Napoleon III's visit to Istanbul. The third Galata Bridge, completed in 1875 from a design by a British engineering firm, floated on pontoons. The fourth was a German-designed floating bridge in use from 1912 until a fire damaged it in 1992. Only the fifth and current Galata Bridge, with its tram tracks above, its pedestrianized deck full of shops and market spaces below, and it drawbridge section in the middle, was built by a Turkish company. In all its iterations, the Galata Bridge has become one of Istanbul's cultural reference points and major attractions as well — not that having been designed by Leonardo would have hurt its image any.

via MIT News/Popular Mechanics

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

26-Year-Old Steve Jobs Debates the Utopian & Dystopian Promise of the Computer (1981)

The deeper we get into the 21st century, the fewer aspects of our lives remain disconnected from the digital realm. The convenience of this arrangement is undeniable, but the increasing difficulty of getting through a day without hearing the latest version of the public argument about privacy and data security suggests an accompanying discomfort as well. Have our online lives stolen our privacy — or have we perhaps freely given it away? Some us now even look longingly backward to a time before not just social media but the internet as we know it, a time in which, we imagine, nobody had to worry about the large-scale harvesting and sale of personal information.

As the 1981 Nightline clip above reveals, these concerns went mainstream well before most Americans owned computers, much less went online with them. Even so, Ted Koppel could open the segment claiming that "as a society, we've become used to computer problems of one kind or another, just as we've become used to computers. We're so used to them, in fact, that few of us stop to think of the extent to which they now play a role in our everyday lives, a role that shows every sign of growing even bigger."




There follows footage of the contexts in which computers involved themselves in the lives of the average person in the early 80s: making a phone call, getting money from the ATM, buying groceries at the supermarket, booking an airline ticket. Nevertheless, actually owning a computer yourself could still get you interviewed on the news with the chyron "Home-Computer Owner" beneath your name. After we hear from one such enthusiast, the scene switches to the headquarters of the five-year-old Apple Computer, "the Big Apple in this land of high technology."

A 26-year-old Steve Jobs appears to describe his company's creation as "a 21st-century bicycle that amplifies a certain intellectual ability that man has," one whose effects on society will "far outstrip even those that the petrochemical revolution has had." But then comes the anti-computer counterpoint: "Some people feel threatened by them," says reporter Ken Kashiwahara. "Some think they tend to dehumanize, and others fear they may eventually take over their jobs." Over satellite links, Koppel then brings on Jobs and investigative journalist Daniel Burnham for a debate about the promise and peril of the computer.

"The government has the capacity, by using computers, to get all kinds of information on us that we're really not even aware that they have," Koppel asks Jobs, underscoring Burnham's line of argument. "Isn't that dangerous?" For Jobs, "the best protection against something like that is a very literate public, and in this case computer literate." Predicting, correctly, that every household in the country would eventually have its own computer, he finds reassurance in the inevitably wide distribution of computing power and computer literacy across the public, meaning "that centralized intelligence will have the least effect on our lives without us knowing it."

But Burnham nevertheless warns of "a tremendous danger that the public is not aware of enough at this moment." He didn't describe that danger in the forms of overgrown e-commerce or social media giants — both of those concepts having yet to be realized in any form — or even ideologically opposed foreign countries, but the United States' own Army and Census Bureau. What happens when they decide to use the data in their possession to "break the rules"? Computers are here to stay, it seems, but so are our inclinations as human beings, and one wonders how cleanly the two can ever be reconciled. As aphorist Aaron Haspel puts it, "We can have privacy or we can have convenience, and we choose convenience, every time."

via Paleofuture

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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