Watch This Hybrid Drone-Robot Slackline and Skateboard Like It's Nothing

Fearing the rise of the robots? Don't worry, Leonardo the hybrid drone-bot is more interested in doing awesome tricks than taking over the world.

Amanda Kooser
Freelance writer Amanda C. Kooser covers gadgets and tech news with a twist for CNET. When not wallowing in weird gear and iPad apps for cats, she can be found tinkering with her 1956 DeSoto.
Amanda Kooser
2 min read

It's lucky we're not living in a futuristic dystopia where sentient robots are out to get us. But if we were, then Leonardo would definitely be the coolest robot we'd face. 

Leonardo, short for "LEgs ONboARD drOne," is the creation of Caltech researchers who were inspired in part by how birds can flap their wings and also hop and walk with their legs. Known as Leo for short, this bipedal robot is able to pull off tricky moves like walking on a slackline and riding a skateboard.

Check out our video at the top of the story to see Leo in action, including how it blurs the lines between humanlike robots and  drones .  

A robot with legs and dronelike propellers balances on a slackline
Enlarge Image
A robot with legs and dronelike propellers balances on a slackline

Leo the robot can handle a slackline thanks to its legs and dronelike propellers.

Video screenshot by Amanda Kooser/CNET

"LEO is the first robot that uses multi-joint legs and propeller-based thrusters to achieve a fine degree of control over its balance," Caltech said in a statement when it introduced Leonardo in October. 

The Caltech team at that time published a paper on the robot in the journal Science Robotics. Leo's versatility means it can call on its walking skills, its flying ability or a combination of the two depending on the terrain and its goals. Caltech described Leo as having "uncanny balance."

After seeing videos of Boston Dynamics harassing their own robot creations, you might wonder how Leo would respond. "Because of its propellers, you can poke or prod LEO with a lot of force without actually knocking the robot over," said Elena-Sorina Lupu, a co-author of the paper.

The researchers are already eyeing ways to make Leonardo more energy efficient by upgrading the leg design to rely less on the propellers for balance while walking. The team is also working on making it more autonomous so it can assess its environment and decide how best to navigate it.

The robotics team sees a possible future for this technology on Mars, where it could represent a new generation of rotorcraft. The concept would build on the success of NASA's Ingenuity helicopter. Imagine Ingenuity with legs, able to land safely on uneven terrain. Leo, the interplanetary explorer? It could happen.