LEONARDO, the robot that walks, flies and skateboards – Sciences et Avenir

“Half walking robot, half flying drone,” LEONARDO (LEO for close friends) is a project of the California Institute of Technology (Caltech). Its name is the diminutive of “LEgs ONBOARD drOne”, which we could literally translate as “legs with a drone on board”, and it lives up to its name: with its humanoid charm despite its small size, LEO is capable of walking. the ground on its long multi-articulated legs but also to fly thanks to its propeller thrusters.

A bird-inspired design

With a weight of 2.58 kilos by 75 centimeters in height, LEO has a silhouette that can be described as humanoid, in particular because of the different parts that compose it: a “head” with a protective helmet that houses the electrical circuits, a torso It includes a propeller propulsion system. on each side (at the height of the “shoulders”), and especially the legs articulated with its small pointed feet, which allows it to walk at a speed of 20 centimeters per second.

LEO’s legs are made up of three motorized joints, made from 3D printed carbon fibers. Its propulsion system, meanwhile, consists of four propellers that allow it to be stable both in flight and on the ground. These two components, ground and air, allow the robot to maintain balance: the propellers ensure that the robot remains upright while the legs move, moving its center of mass and the rest of its body with it, like a human. When flying, LEO only uses its thrusters, like a drone.

D’apres Soon-Jo Chung, chercheur travaillant sur le projet LEONARDO, l’équipe is inspired des oiseaux pour le design de leur robot: “a complex and intriguing behavior got into place lorsque les oiseaux alternating between the marche et le Flight ; we wanted to understand and learn from this phenomenon. “Like birds on electrical cables, LEO is able to balance on a tight rope (a tight, elastic rope), like a tightrope walker.

Multimodal and hybrid locomotion

Although there are already different models of robots that walk (and even do parkour), for example Cassie, another American model with an ostrich-inspired gait, or robots that fly, few of them are capable of doing both as LEONARDO. Most bipedal robots, which can walk, run or jump, are quickly limited by the terrain in which they operate and generally cannot overcome obstacles that get in their way. Flying machines, on the other hand, do not have this problem since they do not move on the ground. On the other hand, they consume a lot of energy in flight which limits their operating time and they cannot carry too bulky loads.

As Kyunam Kim, a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, explains, the LEO advantage lies in its ability to “change its mode of travel according to the options at its disposal” to respond “appropriately” to its environment, especially “in case of challenge.” . He specifies that “LEO aims in particular to bridge the gap between the two distinct fields of air locomotion and bipedal locomotion, which are generally not nested in existing robotic systems.”

The leg joints and propeller thrusters are essential to LEO’s hybrid locomotion, halfway between walking and flying: controlled in sync with the leg joints, LEO has remarkable balance. “

Thanks to this multimodal locomotion, LEO can perform complex movements that particularly mobilize its sense of balance, for example slacklining. You can also skate, a balance test like any other …

There’s still a long way to go

If LEO is already a remarkable little robot, the Caltech team is still planning many improvements, starting with its legs that they would like to make stiffer so that they “can support more weight to increase thruster power.”

A new landing control program could also be incorporated: the researchers evoke Neural Lander, a program also developed by Caltech based on deep learning so that autonomous drones can fly and land without problems even in areas of turbulence. This could allow LEO to learn from its environment to choose the best way to travel (ie the safest and least energy efficient).

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