Strapping thrusters or propellers onto bipedal robots for increased maneuverability and stability is an ingenious idea being capitalized on by more and more academic institutions — including Guangdong University of Technology’s School of Automation with their Jet-HR1, and IIT’s flying iCub concept just to name a few.
Engineers from Caltech’s Center for Autonomous Systems and Technologies (CAST) and Northeastern University have also taken the idea of thruster-assisted mobility and have applied it to their LEONARDO (LEg ON Aerial Robotic DrOne) bipedal robot, which gives it increased stabilization and enhanced flexibility. According to lead engineer Alireza Ramezani (now an assistant professor of electrical and computer engineering at Northwestern), “The idea is not to create a quadcopter. The idea is to have a machine that can leverage its legs and the thrusters to, for example, enhance its jumping capability.”
LEONARDO stands at roughly 2 ½-feet tall and made mostly of carbon fiber, which helps keeps its weight on the low side at just over six pounds. Thrusters mounted on both sides of its torso are powerful enough to take the robot airborne but are used primarily to enhance its legs. The thrusters are synchronized with the leg joints to move the robot’s torso up and down under closed-loop control, providing movement that is more agile.
As far as applications are concerned, LEONARDO could be used to transport information and tools to help people in hostile environments, such as forest fires, or used for exploration both here on earth or other planets in our solar system. With that said, the robot is still under development and will probably be a long while before it or something similar is sent to a different world.