Robot that can walk, fly and skateboard is an insight into the future

The bipedal robot, known as LEONARDO or LEO for short, tackles obstacles by walking, flying, or blending the two as needed.

by | Published on 11th Aug 2023

If ever there was an insight into the future, this is it.

It’s part robot, part flying drone, and it’s called LEONARDO (LEgs ONboARD drOne).

LEO (for short) can walk a slackline, hop, and even ride a skateboard.

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The bipedal robot was developed by a team at Caltech’s Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST).

It’s the first robot to use multi-joint legs and propeller-based thrusters to achieve a fine degree of control over its balance.

Bipedal robots like LEO are able to tackle complex terrains using the same sort of movements that humans use.

Basically jumping, running, and even climbing stairs.

But, just like humans, they’re stymied by tough terrain.

Luckily enough for LEO, it’s fitted with thrusters so it can avoid the ground by flying.

By using a hybrid movement, somewhat between walking and flying, LEO’s researchers get the best of both worlds in terms of locomotion.

Its lightweight legs take stress off its thrusters by supporting the bulk of the weight.

But because the thrusters are controlled synchronously with leg joints, LEO has uncanny balance.

Based on the types of obstacles it needs to traverse, LEO can choose to use either walking or flying, or blend the two as needed.

What’s more, LEO is capable of performing unusual locomotion maneuvers that even humans require a mastery of balance, like walking on a slackline and skateboarding.

The robot stands at 2.5-feet tall (76 cm) and is equipped with two legs that have three actuated joints.

There’s also four propeller thrusters mounted at an angle on the robot’s shoulders.

When a human walks, they adjust the position and orientation of their legs to adjust their center of mass to move forward while the body’s balance is maintained.

LEO walks in the same way, too, its propellers ensuring it stays upright as it walks.

Leg actuators change the position of the legs to move the robot’s center of mass forward through the use of a syncronized walking and flying controller.

And when it comes to flying, the robot uses its propellers alone and flies like a drone.

In the real world, the technology designed for LEO could foster the development of adaptive landing gear systems composed of controlled leg joints for aerial robots and other types of flying vehicles.

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Adam Gray is an experienced motoring journalist and content creator based in the United Kingdom. Using his media accreditation with motor manufacturers’ press offices, Adam test drives the latest cars and attends new vehicle press launches, producing written reviews and news pieces for supercarblondie.com. Before joining the Supercar Blondie team, Adam was Motoring Editor for Portfolio North magazine, North East Motoring Editor at Reach plc, and provided motoring content on a freelance basis to several lifestyle and business publications in the North of England. When he’s not behind the wheel of the latest car, Adam can be found at his local rink playing ice hockey or supporting his beloved Middlesbrough FC.

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