In the 14th century, King Philipp VI prepared a crusade to Jerusalem. To please his emperor, Guido da Vigevano, who was a medical doctor in Pavia, thought night and day how to accelerate the conquest of Jerusalem. The distance to Israel was a major obstacle for warfare in those days. In a handbook, the doctor outlined among other utilities a construction plan for modern war machines. Guido da Vigevano designed a large vehicle on wooden wheels 2.40 meters in diameter and propelled by wind power. 1 The engine of this vehicle was based on the technology of conventional windmills that mill grain.
The principal purpose of this war vehicle was not to carry troops to Jerusalem, but to cause panic among the enemy soldiers when they saw the machine rush over the fields without being drawn by horses or other animals. However, the fundamental problem of the war vehicle was that it was not capable of “rushing” over the landscape; it could not even move slowly as the transmission was misdesigned so that even high wind speeds could not deliver sufficient torque and propulsion energy. The Palestine mountainous landscape was not the ideal surface for operating this vehicle, either.
Guido da Vigevano's design of a wind-powered vehicle type in 1335 will most probably become reality in the beginning of the 21st century. High-tech propulsion technologies such as fuel cell electric vehicles in combination with alternative fuels prove da Vigevano's fundamental idea feasible. Hydrogen as an optional energy carrier can be generated via electrolysis from wind power. Thus, vehicles can be propelled by the abundant and renewable power of wind rather than by animals or even today's conventional power sources.