Leonardo da Vinci’s drone really flies: the Maestro’s drawing becomes reality

Over 500 years ago Leonardo da Vinci had seen it right: that contraption half drone and half helicopter (eVTOL, we could call it today) could have flown. A dream, perhaps, for the great Italian inventor and artist, which the University of Maryland has transformed into reality with a project based on the drawings of the Master.

The Transformative Vertical Flight 2022 conference held last week in San Jose, California was the perfect opportunity to show how the idea has been developed over the past few years. Leonardo’s “prototype” included one large screw propeller, its “modern” and revised version adopts the same principle. For many, in fact, that of the Italian artist was the first true vertical take-off vehicle ever designed in history.

The tools available today – starting with the materials – have allowed us to work effectively on the idea, demonstrating how it works. From here they were born in 2019 Elico and Samsara, both winners of awards as the best solutions based on the Master’s project. The first is a autonomous driving motor panels, made with a conical screw rotor to help lift it. Same principle for the second – Samsara – which provides four carbon fiber rotors.

And starting from these projects, Austin Prete – already involved in the Elico development team – has created Crimson Spin, a further revised version of the quadcopter also equipped in this case with a screw rotor that allows the vehicle to take off and fly. It is to scale, but the researcher is convinced that it works the same even in “natural” dimensions, being able to transport a person in flesh and blood.

Of course, today’s carbon fiber is not the wood used by Leonardo in the 15th century, and even the technology we have available in 2022 is very different from that of 500 years ago: just think of 3D design, simulations, systems and solutions that have allowed the American university teams to perfect the propeller design. But once again it is surprising how da Vinci had foreseen everything. Who knows if his 14 living grandchildren will be proud of their ancestor.


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