Story at a glance

  • LEONARDO walks and flies to get around.
  • Video shows the 2.5-foot prototype approach and fly over a set of steps, walk a slackline and even ride a skateboard.
  • LEO’s ability to toggle between walking and flying enables the robot to navigate through challenging and complex environments more efficiently.

Researchers have unveiled a new two-legged robot that utilizes both walking and flying to move through its environment.

LEONARDO, short for “LEgs ONboARD drOne, is the first robot equipped with multi-joint legs and propeller-based thrusters that allow it to “achieve a fine degree of control over its balance,” according to developers from Caltech. 

LEO was developed by a team at Caltech’s Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST). A paper on LEO was published recently in Science Robotics

Video shows the 2.5-foot prototype approach and fly over a set of steps, walk a slackline and even ride a skateboard.


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“We drew inspiration from nature,” Soon-Jo Chung, a researcher behind LEO and Bren Professor of Aerospace and Control and Dynamical Systems, said in a statement

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

LEO’s ability to toggle between walking and flying enables the robot to navigate through challenging and complex environments more efficiently than traditional bipedal robots. Researchers say the prototype could help develop aerial robots and other types of flying vehicles, as well as more advanced rotorcraft for future Mars missions. 

“Based on the types of obstacles it needs to traverse, LEO can choose to use either walking or flying, or blend the two as needed,” Patrick Spieler, co-lead author of the paper, said in a statement. 

Researchers say they plan to build on the LEO prototype, improving its leg design so it could support more weight and rely less on its propellers for balance. The team also plans to make the robot more autonomous so it can make its own decisions about the best combination of walking and flying to get from one place to another. 


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Published on Oct 11, 2021