The Lost Napkins of Leonardo Da Vinci

Is the future hiding somewhere in a 500-year-old notebook?

To accomplish this near-impossible feat, Rosheim gave the aforementioned eye a major kick in the ass by looking at hundreds of other drawings by Leonardo, hoping to trigger an epiphany. "I'd given up," he says, "when the answer finally came to me. It just kind of oozed up out of my subconscious. You program it with this array of cams."

I should confess that I wouldn't know a cam from a dram: Apparently, the word refers to the projection on a rotating shaft or wheel, which triggers another part of a machine. I am given to understand that cars are full of the things. I could defend my ignorance by pointing out that I do not drive—but then neither did Leonardo.

Another of Rosheim's realizations, Leonardo's "Robot Knight"—documented, like the "Bell-Ringer," in yet another case a few feet from where we're standing—ended up in July's Vanity Fair, along with a photo of Rosheim in his studio. "While I was working on my second book," he says, gesturing toward the piece, "I visited Carlo in L.A. He asked me to write a paper for a journal he edits, the Academia Leonard Vinci. The technical description of the Robot Knight in The Da Vinci Code is stolen from that paper. Here's Dan Brown in a limo. My photo has a lathe. It's not fair."

He puts just enough wounded child in this last line to indicate that he's joking, which is good, as it's Brown who should be jealous. Granted, Brown's potboiler has probably sold a million tons of books. But the inventor has the satisfaction of being that rare independent scholar who's widely respected by academics and casual readers.

"Leonardo's Lost Robots is well into its second printing," he says as we stroll beneath a complete robot torso with arms, hands, and head, all designed by Rosheim. He adds, "It's scheduled to go into paperback next year. The Leonardo thing is a hobby run amok, but I have no regrets. The Robot Knight, the Bell-Ringer, the Robot Cart: They're all perfect machines. There's no waste, nothing superfluous. They do so much in such a compact space. They're so elegant. It's beautiful stuff. It's kind of a privilege to have worked on them."

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