‘A bird is an instrument working according to mathematical law, which … is within the capacity of man to reproduce …’
Da Vinci observed and dissected the anatomy of birds and bats to translate them into designs for ornithopters or flapping wing flying machines powered by crank handles and gears. Da Vinci also sketched gliders similar to those developed in the 19th century in Europe by George Cayley and Otto Lillienthal and in Australia by Lawrence Hargrave whose aerofoils and box kites contributed to the Wright Brothers’ first powered flights in 1904.
Da Vinci’s dreams of human-powered flight defeated technology until 2010, when students of the University of Toronto’s Institute for Aerospace Studies in Canada first flew the pedal powered Snowbird ornithopter. The super lightweight craft (43 kg), with a 32m wingspan flew 145m, ‘flapping’ 16 times in 19.3 seconds, validating da Vinci’s imagination if not his technology.
In 2015, University of Technology Sydney, biomedical engineers created further leaps forward in personal freedom. TIM, a Thought-controlled Intelligent Machine developed by the Centre
for Health Technologies, is a thought controlled wheelchair for people with severe physical disability. Aviator technology uses a headband to read the user’s electro-encephalogram signals to drive and steer their wheelchair. And, the University’s Centre for Autonomous Systems has engineered a step climbing attachment to help level the playing field for electric wheelchair users.
Snowbird human powered ornithopter Photo: Todd Reichert, University of Toronto Institute for Aerospace Studies
Innovations by the UTS Centre for Health Technologies (CHT) have created a wheelchair controlled entirely with the mind. Photo: UTS Centre for Health Technologies
Flying Machine painted metal and canvas, string, wooden mannequin