Caltech engineers are no strangers to making sophisticated robots; they are the ones NASA calls up any time they want a new little rover that can zip around Mars. But they might have outdone themselves this time, with a new (and sort of terrifying?) bipedal robot that doubles as a flying drone.
Called LEONARDO (short for LEgs ONboARD drOne), the robot stands 2.5 feet tall with two high-heeled, and four tilted propellers mounted on its shoulders. LEO is designed to get around through a combination of walking and short flights. When it needs to pass obstacles or scale up or down to different elevations and platforms, it just fires its propellers and hops over.
"We drew inspiration from nature,” Soon-Jo Chung, one of the engineers behind LEO, said in a news release. “Think about the way birds are able to flap and hop to navigate telephone lines. We wanted to understand and learn from that.”
The propellers don’t just let LEO fly; they also help it to keep upright as it moves around on the surface and lands. The stumpy bot boasts enough balance to skateboard and walk a slackline. The goal was to give LEO enough versatility to navigate obstacles and traverse terrain better than most other biped robots being built and tested.
LEO’s makers want to improve the robot over time with better internal AI so it can get around faster, more safely, and more autonomously. Not saying that’s automatically a bad idea..., but it doesn’t not sound like the origin story to the Terminator.