Thrusters Could Take Bird-Inspired Bots to Mars

Leonardo robot

Researchers at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech) recently unveiled their Leonardo robot, which combines bird-like movements with propeller-driven thrusters to help it move and stay upright. Originally, the concept for this advanced, avian robot came primarily from Caltech postdoc Alireza Ramezani, now an assistant professor at Northeastern University.

The thrusters essentially work like flapping wings, helping the 2.5-foot, 6-pound robot remain upright when traversing rugged or uneven ground.

Improving these capabilities will allow Leonardo to be used in a range of applications, such as search-and-rescue operations, as well as the exploration of locations that are dangerous for humans, such as caves or even planets like Mars. Caltech has been working with NASA on technologies for future Mars explorations, and Leonardo’s capabilities could be a good fit.

Although Leonardo is capable of walking on its two legs without any assistance, the pair of thrusters attached to its body means it can move without the risk of losing its balance. These are activated whenever the robot begins to look unsteady or get off-balance. CalTech scientists describe the robot's movement as halfway between hovering and walking, as the thrusters allow Leonardo to fly short distances.

Image Credit: Northeastern University /

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