The Da Vinci Drawmaton is a blast from the Renaissance

Robert Sabuda makes mechanical books – pop up books with mechanical features that make them move and change while you read them – and he’s made it to the top of the New York Times best seller list multiple times. Now he’s taking on a new challenge: rebuilding and selling a version of Leonardo da Vinci’s drawing robot.

The robot, called the Da Vinci Drawmaton, uses geared wheels to move a robotic hand across a piece of paper. Like a very skilled Etch-a-sketch artist, the robot is able to draw pictures without raising its pen, creating wild and beautiful designs in a manner that hasn’t been truly recreated since the Renaissance.

“About a year ago the Leonardo da Vinci Robot Society, a loose group of enthusiasts of da vinci’s robotic work reached out to me with a special project,” said Sabuda. “It had long been rumored that the Robot Knight was able to perform more tasks other than standing, sitting, shaking hands and playing the drums. One of these tasks was that the robot could draw. The Society asked if I’d be interested in trying to reverse engineer this skill of the Robot. After carefully researching da Vinci’s work in the Codex Atlanticus, a kind of note book/sketch book combo of his robotic thoughts, I was able (after much sweat and tears) able to reproduce this skill in a robotic arm.”

Sabuda is Kickstarting the arm and is selling it for $99 for early birds. It’s made of wood – Sabuda cam from three generations of carpenters – but it is also as meticulously designed and decorated as one of his pop-up books.

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Interestingly, Sabuda equates the project to a sort of analog computer. The system is programmable thanks to a set of wooden disks that drive the arm to perform its actions.

“One kilobye of information is stored on a pair of wooden discs that da Vinci called ‘Petalos’ because he though they resembled the petals of a flower,” he said. “When the Petalos are rotated they send information down to the robot’s arm and hand and it draws a picture. Since all of da Vinci’s robots are made only of wood and a few small pieces of metal, reverse engineering all of this was quite challenging!”

The project is halfway to its funding point and should ship in June. It’s a fascinating little piece of Da Vinci arcana that could be a nice way to introduce mechanics and robotics to grade schoolers and/or baffled Florentine princes.