A team of researchers from the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) has come up with a bipedal robot that performs the dual function of walking and flying. The team claims that their latest creation is not only agile but also capable of complex movements. Named Leonardo, part-walking robot, part-flying drone built in such a way that it can balance itself on a slackline, jump around, or even ride a skateboard Is.
Designed and developed by Caltech’s Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST), the robot’s multi-joint legs and propeller-based thrusters help it achieve a good degree of control over its balance, researchers say.
Speaking on the project, Brain Professor Soon-Jo Chung of Aerospace and Control and Dynamical Systems says the team drew inspiration from nature, adding that birds can fly as well as navigate telephone lines. “A complex but intriguing behavior occurs as birds move between walking and flying,” says Chung, who is also the study’s corresponding author, adding that the researchers wanted to understand and learn from that.
Chung elaborated that the way Leonardo uses distributed propeller-based thrusters and synchronized control of leg joints is similar to a human in a jet suit controlling his legs and feet during landing and taking off. “We wanted to study the interface of walking and flying from a dynamics and control point of view.”
The team said the bipedal robots are capable of tackling complex terrain such as the way humans walk while jumping or running or climbing stairs. However, when it comes to rough terrain, it becomes difficult for these machines. But then Leonardo’s flight characteristic comes to the rescue – if she cannot walk or jump on the ground, she can simply fly over him.
Postdoctoral researcher Kyunnam Kim says a robot like Leonardo can navigate challenging environments more efficiently than a conventional robot, as it switches between the two available modes of movement. “Leonardo aims to bridge the gap between two distinct domains of aerial and bipedal motion, which are not typically interconnected in existing robotic systems,” says Kim, who co-authored the paper. He is also the lead author.
There are also some limitations. Not only does the Leonardo consume a lot of energy while in flight, but it also has a limited payload capacity.