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Author's profile photo Richard Howells

The Da Vinci Code to the Internet of Things

Over the holiday, I spent a great afternoon at the Boston Museum of Science, which is currently running an exhibition called “Da Vinci – The Genius.” The exhibition brings to life the genius of Leonardo da Vinci as an inventor, scientist, engineer, architect, sculptor, and artist.

On display were interactive and life-size machine inventions, built by Italian artisans, who worked from Leonardo’s codices. Amongst other things they have built: the first concepts of a car, bicycle, helicopter, parachute, scuba, a forerunner to the modern military tank, and an ideal city.

Da Vinci was, without a doubt, an innovator, someone way ahead of his time. Leonardo carries instant, universal recognition-both as a name and as the figure known for ushering in a ground breaking era of science and discovery. I can only imagine what he would think of how some of his concepts have been realized, enhanced, and empowered in today’s world of connected products, assets, and vehicle fleets. Or how they would be implemented across the internet of everything by connecting infrastructures, markets and people in today’s world.

Here are a few of Leonardo’s inventions and ideas, and how they have evolved over the years:

From self-propelled cart to connected car

Hundreds of years before the motorized vehicle, Leonardo da Vinci designed a self-propelled cart that was powered by coiled springs and controlled by steering and brake capabilities.

In today’s world, that primitive design can be seen in connected cars, which are tracked by hundreds of sensors to run real-time analysis on steering, breaking, and other systems to predict performance issues and defects.

From an ideal city concept to an actual ideal city

Da Vinci’s ideal city concept was a result of a plague that killed off nearly a third of the population of Milan. Leonardo wanted to design an ideal city with greater communications, services, and sanitation to prevent the future spread of such diseases. His ideal city concept included wider streets that would be cleaned via a paddle wheel system and underground waterways that would carry away garbage.

Today, connectivity is making da Vinci’s vision of an ideal city a reality. With the rise of automation, cities can improve the environment, health, and safety of urban areas while benefiting from smoother traffic flows, more orderly parking, and the increased management of local buildings, lighting, public spaces, yards, ports, and other infrastructure forming the modern-day urban landscape.

From a robotic knight to robotics in the workplace

Da Vinci also incorporated a series of pulleys, weights, and gears to design what many believe to be the first robot. His robotic knight was designed for a pageant in Milan. It consisted of a knight suit fitted with gears and wheels and connected to a pulley-and-cable system that would enable the figure to sit down, stand up, move its head, and lift its visor.

Robotics today are commonplace throughout warehouses and manufacturing facilities around the world. We have drones and driverless vehicles that deliver goods, warehouses that run completely “lights out,” and production facilities that can be controlled and configured in a “to-order” capacity, as supply chain experts strive for a market of one.

From helicopters and flying machines to connected assets and fleets

Leonardo da Vinci was so far ahead of his time as an innovator, it’s incredible to imagine what he could have dreamt up if he were around today – particularly with access to Big Data and real-time insight into nearly every product manufactured, every piece of equipment used, every vehicle in motion, every building in use, and every person on the planet, at any given time.

Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Everything

IoT makes literally everything connected or connectable, from the products we make to the people that use them:

  • Connected products means new insights throughout the product lifecycle, from design, to production, to delivery, to the end of a product’s life.
  • Connected assets can be tracked, monitored, analyzed, and maintained proactively to reduce operational and maintenance costs and increase equipment uptime.
  • Connected fleets of vehicles, robots, forklifts, and autonomous vehicles can be monitored, maintained, and optimized to improve services, safety, visibility, and service quality.
  • Connected infrastructure can improve digital operational intelligence of physical infrastructure systems, construction, and energy grids enabling improved service, efficient operations, and compliance and risk mitigation.
  • Connected markets can optimize rural and urban areas to better enable new production and enhance assets, space, and our natural resources.
  • Connected people enable more insightful, collaborative work roles, health management, and smart home environments by connecting people and communities and providing better, more personalized lifestyle experiences.

As Leonardo da Vinci once said, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.”

Maybe he had a vision for how we should leverage “things” – way before the rest of us.

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