You might have thought that the robopocalypse was nearing after seeing Boston Dynamics’ creepy robot dogs dancing, or Amazon’s dubiously cute home assistant robot, or even Elon Musk’s plans to build a humanoid robot.
But there’s a new creepy robot on the scene and it is a mix between a walking robot and a flying drone.
Gizmodo reckons this bipedal robot is proof that the robopocalypse nightmare is coming true, which doesn’t seem too far off after seeing the thing in action.
It goes by the name of LEONARDO, or LEO for short, an acronym for LEgs ONboARD and weighs 2,58 kg at 75 cm tall.
That’s nifty, but there’s a bit more to this bot than just a pair of legs slapped onto an aerial drone.
The Caltech engineers who built LEO had to develop specialised software to integrates its various components and design the bot in such a way that both walking and flying would be possible without a loss of balance.
This included tackling a “rich set of engineering problems that were not well-studied in other robotic systems”, the team said.
Thank goodness LEO is still a prototype at this stage, but still, it is proof that a bipedal flying robot concept, which can perform tasks that would otherwise be difficult or impossible for ground robots or aerial drones to accomplish on their own, is possible.
In test runs, it has successfully performed in tasks where balance is needed, like riding a skateboard or walking on a slackline.
In fact, the team claimed that LEO is the first bipedal robot to perform slacklining, even though it was with the help of its propellers.
Look at it go:
The engineers have explained that a future version could be quite helpful, actually:
In the future, a full-fledged version could be tasked with difficult or dangerous jobs, such as inspecting and repairing damaged infrastructure, installing new equipment in hard-to-reach places, or attending to natural disasters and industrial accidents.
Eventually, a LEO-like robot could even transport delicate equipment to the surface of a celestial body, such as Mars or Saturn’s moon Titan. More ominously, the agile bipedal flier could be used in defense or warfare.
Yup, I remain convinced that this bot will contribute to our demise.
Furthermore, apparently, LEO was designed with sci-fi characteristics on purpose:
In an email, the team told me they were inspired by the fictional flying humanoid robot Astro Boy and the Iron Man-like jet suits built by Gravity Industries’ Richard Browning.
A researcher at ETH Zurich’s Department of Environmental Systems Science Stefano Mintchev says that the Caltech engineers should rather continue to be inspired by nature to make LEO even better.
Instead of looking at birds, bats, and insects, who manage the transition from walking to flying and vice versa with elegance, Mintchev points to flying snakes, who flatten their bodies to improve gliding, as a possible design option.
Either way, we can relax a bit knowing that LEO still has some challenges to overcome before the robopocalypse is truly upon us.
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