CALTECH is developing a humanoid robot with some pretty powerful augmentations. The LEg ON Aerial Robotic DrOne, or Leonardo, is a bipedal robot with a thruster that gives it exceptional balancing ability and advanced agility.
Leo stands about 0.75 meters tall and is comprised of mostly carbon fiber. It is really light which allows its drone-like thrusters to lift the whole robot off the ground.
Leo isn’t a flying robot though, the thrusters are designed to give the robot a better balance, especially his upper body so that his legs don’t have to take that task on as well.
“Initially, it was developed with the idea of designing explorers—systems that can combine legged mobility and fast aerial mobility to do autonomous explorations,” the robot's inventor Alireza Ramezani said.
In the accompanying video, you can see the thruster, located on each side of its torso assisting Leo to stay upright as it moves.
A humanoid robot that never falls over
The propellers on the thrusters work in synchronization with the legs of the robot to help it make advanced movements. Humanoid robots are difficult to build because humans are incredibly complex with ranges of movement that almost seem to defy our own understanding of physics.
Robotics engineers are drawn to design and build humanoid robots deposit their challenges. One of the reasons for this is that robots of the same size and movements will be in many cases more easily adapted by humans.
There have been some incredible advances in humanoid robotics in the last decade, and perhaps one of the biggest breakthroughs is when robots augment humanoid robots with non-human movements and capabilities like Caltech are doing with LEO.
Robot can always retain its balance
For examples with LEO, the thrusters can help the robot not fall over even when stretched to its capacity in an action like jumping as it can temporarily fly itself to give more time to regain control. Not only will it help it land safely after jumping it will improve its height and distance too.
“The idea is not to create a quadcopter,” Ramezani said.
“The idea is to have a machine that can leverage its legs and the thrusters too, for example, enhance its jumping capability.”
“This is the major challenge for legged systems or even humans: We can stabilize our body, but sometimes we fall,” Ramezani explained.
“What if we could have a robot that never falls?”
Augmented movement perfect for exploration
Ramezani is now an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northeastern but will continue to provide assistance on the development of LEO at Caltech.
“At this stage, I look at this as a very good platform to push agile robotics. Think of a robot that literally never falls: It can negotiate rough terrain, it can fly, it can jump. An ultra-capable system,” Ramezani continued.
“Down the road, we can use a machine like this for exploration.”