A robotics team of Caltech’s Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST) has created LEONARDO (short for LEgs ONboARD drOne, or LEO for short), a bipedal robot that can walk and fly at the same time. The robot is highly agile and capable of performing complex moves like walking slacklines, hopping, and even riding a skateboard. LEO is the first robot to employ multi-joint legs and propeller-based thrusters to finely manage its balance.
It’s a drone … it’s a bot … it’s LEONARDO! LEO’s unique features—a propeller-powered drone paired with bipedal legs—allow for navigation in terrain that would be impassable to other robotic explorers. pic.twitter.com/8HPze0RPKw
— Caltech (@Caltech) December 27, 2021
How it works
Soon-Jo Chung, corresponding author and Bren Professor of Aerospace and Control and Dynamical Systems, explains that the creation of LEO was inspired by the behavior of birds when they transition from hopping to flying. In the same way, the biped robot uses propeller-based thrusters and leg joints to emulate the experience so that they can “study the interface of walking and flying from the dynamics and control standpoint.”
LEO is a 2.5-foot-tall robot with three operated joints on each of its legs and four propeller thrusters set at an angle on each of its shoulders. It only makes use of its propellers to take flight, similar to a drone.
Bipedal robots can traverse difficult real-world terrains just like a person. In contrast, robots that can fly can simply pass over these terrains, but flying requires energy consumption, plus it only has a limited payload capacity. Kyunam Kim, a postdoctoral researcher at Caltech, shares that LEO’s design aims to bring the two worlds of aerial and bipedal mobility into a robotic system.
By utilizing both capabilities, LEO is able to make use of its lightweight legs to reduce the weight on the thrusters, and the thrusters are utilized in time with the leg joints to give it balance. Former member of Chung’s group, Patrick Spieler, further explains that this flexibility allows the robot to do more complex actions that require balance, such as skateboarding.
YouTube: Leonardo: The Skateboarding, Slacklining Robot
Photo credit: All media shown is owned by Caltech.