Leonardo da Vinci designed a self-propelled cart in 1478. Da Vinci’s invention is thought to be the earliest precursor of the modern automobile. But while there is no doubt that this creative genius was before his time, the wheel came to us even earlier: during the 4th century BCE. It took us a long time to get from the wheel to a self-propelled conveyance. Also a long distance. The wheel was invented in Mesopotamia, which is known today as Iraq. Da Vinci, of course, lived in Italy.
The self-propelled cart, as designed by da Vinci, is powered by two symmetric springs. Today, we know that one spring would have been enough to get the device moving. The Italian artist and inventor likely thought the two symmetric springs to be a logical solution.
A Balance Wheel to Keep the Cart Stable
Da Vinci knew that the force powering the cart, which would be provided by the springs, would drop as the springs unwound. The genius inventor however, figured out a way to counterbalance that drop in force to keep the cart stable and running smoothly. He added a balance wheel, such as are used in clocks.
Not unlike today’s self-driving cars, da Vinci created a complex control mechanism that would allow the cart to follow a pre-programmed path. Who knows? If he’d had a bit more time, he might have invented GPS and WAZE!
Replica of the Da Vinci Self-Propelled Cart
Da Vinci’s self-propelled cart was incredibly farseeing and advanced. The machine he invented even had a mechanism not unlike a differential. This mechanism allows for setting the turning angle of the cart.
Want to see the self-propelled cart for yourself? You’ll have to go to France. A replica of the cart is on permanent display in the museum at Château Clos Lucé.