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Caltech's LEO robot hybrid can skateboard, tightrope walk and fly

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 10/10/2021 Bailey Schulz, USA TODAY
LEONARDO, short for LEgs ONboARD drOne, is a bipedal robot that can skateboard, hop, walk a tightrope and fly. © Caltech LEONARDO, short for LEgs ONboARD drOne, is a bipedal robot that can skateboard, hop, walk a tightrope and fly.
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Researchers at Caltech have built a drone-robot hybrid that can do it all.

LEONARDO, short for LEgs ONboARD drOne (if that's too much of a mouthful, it also goes by LEO), is a bipedal robot that can skateboard, hop, walk a tightrope and fly.

The 2.5-foot-tall robot was developed at Caltech’s Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies and is the first to use multi-joint legs and propeller-based thrusters to control its balance, according to a release from Caltech.

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Soon-Jo Chung, corresponding author and Bren Professor of Aerospace and Control and Dynamical Systems, said the team drew inspiration from nature when designing the robot.

"Think about the way birds are able to flap and hop to navigate telephone lines," Chung said in the Caltech release. "A complex yet intriguing behavior happens as birds move between walking and flying. We wanted to understand and learn from that."

The 2.5-foot-tall robot LEO was developed at Caltech’s Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies. © Caltech The 2.5-foot-tall robot LEO was developed at Caltech’s Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies.

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LEO’s ability to switch between walking and flying allows it to move through challenging environments, according to researchers. 

"Because of its propellers, you can poke or prod LEO with a lot of force without actually knocking the robot over," said Elena-Sorina Lupu, a graduate student at Caltech. 

The project initially started in the summer of 2019. The team plans to further improve LEO’s performance, changing its leg design to support more weight and equipping the robot with a drone-landing algorithm that would let LEO make its own decisions about whether it should walk, fly or use a combination of both to get from one location to another. 

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The robot was featured in a paper published Wednesday and can be found on the cover of the October issue of Science Robotics.  

Researchers said the technology could be used to help develop aerial robots and other types of flying vehicles, such as Mars rotorcraft.

Follow USA TODAY reporter Bailey Schulz on Twitter: @bailey_schulz

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Caltech's LEO robot hybrid can skateboard, tightrope walk and fly

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