Meet LEO: Tiny 2.5ft-tall drone-robot hybrid can use its two legs to navigate a slackline and skateboard, or switch on its thrusters to fly through the air
LEONARDO (Legs Onboard Drone) is a 2.5ft-tall robot that has bipedal legs and thrusters
It is able to walk on two legs with enough dexterity to slackline and skateboard, but can also fly through the air
The team says the robot could one day be used to perform tasks currently very difficult for drones, robots or humans – including operating in hazardous and hard to reach environments
The idea of a robot that can navigate a slackline, skateboard and fly might sound like a concept of science fiction.
But such a bot is very much real, in the form of LEONARDO, or Legs Onboard Drone – a bipedal robot that has drone like thrusters for stability.
Known as LEO for short, it was built from parts of robots and drones found around the lab by engineers from the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena.
As well as improving stability when walking a tightrope, the propeller-based thrusters also allow the 2.5 foot tall bot to take to the air and fly.
The team says that LEO could someday apply its conquest of land and air to robotic missions currently difficult for ground- or aerial-based robots and drones.
As well as slacklining and skateboarding, the team says the robot could one day be used to perform tasks currently very difficult for drones, robots or humans – including operating in hazardous and hard to reach environments.
The team hasn’t said when LEO would be available for commercial use, or how much it would cost, as it is still at the research and development stage, but hope to work with a manufacturing partner in the future.
A wild video out of China shows the moment when an elaborate light show went awry and dozens of drones began raining down onto stunned spectators watching from below. The eerie scene reportedly unfolded last Friday evening as part of an event celebrating the anniversary of a prominent shopping mall in the city of Zhengzhou. Part of the festivities included a light show wherein around 200 illuminated drones would form the name of the mall, Wanda Plaza, over a crowd of onlookers. However, shortly after the UAVs took flight, the performance took a rather dystopian turn as several of the devices suddenly began to falter and subsequently drop from the sky.
One witness managed to capture the chaos on film and, in the video, dozens of the ‘dead’ drones can be seen falling to the Earth like wayward stars as the people in the crowd shout to each other watch out for the errant UAVs. Some onlookers took cover from the deluge of devices that were crashing onto the pavement, cars, and trees, while other enterprising individuals attempted to snag the downed drones, perhaps thinking that they would be of some value or maybe as merely a memento from the very weird incident. As for what could have caused the mishap, the leading theory is that it was simply a dropped internet connection, though there are also rumblings that it could have been the result of a rival drone company sabotaging the event.
APA robotic dog called Spot trots during a Honolulu Police Department demonstration to reporters Friday, May 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Jennifer Sinco Kelleher)
HONOLULU — If you’re homeless and looking for temporary shelter in Honolulu, expect a visit from a robotic police dog that will scan your eye to make sure you don’t have a fever.
That’s just one of the ways public safety agencies are starting to use Spot, the best-known of a new commercial category of robots that trot around with animal-like agility.
The handful of police officials experimenting with the four-legged machines say they’re just another tool, like existing drones and simple wheeled robots, to keep emergency responders out of harm’s way as they scout for dangers. But privacy watchdogs — the human kind — warn that police are secretly rushing to buy the robots without setting safeguards against aggressive, invasive or dehumanizing uses.
In Honolulu, the police department spent about $150,000 in federal pandemic relief money to buy their Spot from robotics firm Boston Dynamics for use at a government-run tent city near the airport.
“Because these people are houseless it’s considered OK to do that,” said Jongwook Kim, legal director at the American Civil Liberties Union of Hawaiʻi. “At some point it will come out again for some different use after the pandemic is over.”
Acting Lt. Joseph O’Neal of the Honolulu Police Department’s community outreach unit defended the robot’s use in a media demonstration earlier this year. He said it has protected officers, shelter staff and residents by scanning body temperatures between meal times at a shelter where homeless people could quarantine and get tested for COVID-19. The robot is also used to remotely interview individuals who have tested positive.
“We have not had a single person out there that said, ‘That’s scary, that’s worrisome,’” O’Neal said. “We don’t just walk around and arbitrarily scan people.”
Police use of such robots is still rare and largely untested — and hasn’t always gone over well with the public. Honolulu officials faced a backlash when a local news organization, Honolulu Civil Beat, revealed that the Spot purchase was made with federal relief money.
“One of the big challenges is accurately describing the state of the technology to people who have never had personal experience with it,” Michael Perry, vice president of business development at Boston Dynamics, said in an interview. “Most people are applying notions from science fiction to what the robot’s doing.”
For one of its customers, the Dutch national police, explaining the technology includes emphasizing that Spot is a very good robot — well-behaved and not so smart after all.
“It doesn’t think for itself,” Marjolein Smit, director of the special operations unit of the Dutch national police, said of the remote-controlled robot. “If you tell it to go to the left, it will go to the left. If you tell it to stop, it will stop.”
Earlier this year, her police division sent its Spot into the site of a deadly drug lab explosion near the Belgian border to check for dangerous chemicals and other hazards.
Perry said the company’s acceptable use guidelines prohibit Spot’s weaponization or anything that would violate privacy or civil rights laws, which he said puts the Honolulu police in the clear. It’s all part of a year-long effort by Boston Dynamics, which for decades relied on military research grants, to make its robots seem friendlier and thus more palatable to local governments and consumer-oriented businesses.
By contrast, a lesser-known rival, Philadelphia-based Ghost Robotics, has no qualms about weaponization and supplies its dog-like robots to several branches of the U.S. military and its allies.
“It’s just plug and play, anything you want,” said Ghost Robotics CEO Jiren Parikh, who was critical of Boston Dynamics’ stated ethical principles as “selective morality” because of the company’s past involvement with the military.
Parikh added that his company doesn’t market its four-legged robots to police departments, though he said it would make sense for police to use them. “It’s basically a camera on a mobile device,” he said.
There are roughly 500 Spot robots now in the wild. Perry said they’re commonly used by utility companies to inspect high-voltage zones and other hazardous areas. Spot is also used to monitor construction sites, mines and factories, equipped with whatever sensor is needed for the job.
It’s still mostly controlled by humans, though all they have to do is tell it which direction to go and it can intuitively climb stairs or cross over rough terrain. It can also operate autonomously, but only if it’s already memorized an assigned route and there aren’t too many surprise obstacles.
“The first value that most people see in the robot is taking a person out of a hazardous situation,” Perry said.
Kim, of the ACLU in Hawaiʻi, acknowledged that there might be many legitimate uses for such machines, but said opening the door for police robots that interact with people is probably not a good idea. He pointed to how Dallas police in 2016 stuck explosives on a wheeled robot to kill a sniper, fueling an ongoing debate about “killer robots” in policing and warfighting.
“There’s the potential for these robots to increase the militarization of police departments and use it in ways that are unacceptable,” Kim said. “Maybe it’s not something we even want to let law enforcement have.”
NSO Group Technologies (NSO standing for Niv, Shalev and Omri, the names of the company’s founders) is an Israeli technology firm whose spyware called Pegasus enables the remote surveillance of smartphones. It was founded in 2010 by Niv Carmi, Omri Lavie, and Shalev Hulio. It employed almost 500 people as of 2017, and is based in Herzliya, near Tel Aviv, Israel.
Pegasus is spyware developed by the Israeli cyberarms firm NSO Group that can be covertly installed on mobile phones (and other devices) running most versions of iOS and Android. The 2021 Project Pegasus revelations suggest that current Pegasus software is able to exploit all recent iOS versions up to iOS 14.6. According to the Washington Post and other prominent media sources, Pegasus not only enables the keystroke monitoring of all communications from a phone (texts, emails, web searches) but it also enables phone call and location tracking, while also permitting NSO Group to hijack both the mobile phone’s microphone and camera, thus turning it into a constant surveillance device.
Pegasus was discovered in August 2018 after a failed attempt at installing it on an iPhone belonging to a human rights activist led to an investigation revealing details about the spyware, its abilities, and the security vulnerabilities it exploited. As of 2016, Pegasus was capable of reading text messages, tracking calls, collecting passwords, tracking location, accessing the target device’s microphone and camera, and harvesting information from apps. News of the spyware caused significant media coverage. It was called the “most sophisticated” smartphone attack ever, and was the first time that a malicious remote exploit using jailbreak to gain unrestricted access to an iPhone had been detected.
On August 23, 2020, according to intelligence obtained by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, the NSO Group was reported to have sold Pegasus spyware software for hundreds of millions of US dollars to the United Arab Emirates and the other Gulf States, for surveillance of anti-regime activists, journalists and political leaders from rival nations, with Israeli government encouragement and mediation. Later, in December 2020, Al Jazeera investigation show The Tip of the Iceberg, Spy partners, showed exclusive footage about Pegasus and its penetration into the phones of media professionals and activists, used by Israel to eavesdrop on its opponents and even its allies.
The spyware can be installed on devices running certain versions of iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system, as well as some Android devices. Rather than being a specific exploit, Pegasus is a suite of exploits that uses many vulnerabilities in the system. Infection vectors include clicking links, the Photos app, the Apple Music app, and iMessage. Some of the exploits Pegasus uses are zero-click—that is, they can run without any interaction from the victim. Once installed, Pegasus has been reported to be able to run arbitrary code, extract contacts, call logs, messages, photos, web browsing history, settings, as well as gather information from apps including but not limited to communications apps iMessage, Gmail, Viber, Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, and Skype.
Misuse Although Pegasus is stated as intended to be used against criminals and terrorists, use by authoritarian governments to spy on critics and opponents has often been reported.
Use by India In late 2019, Facebook initiated a suit against NSO, claiming that Pegasus had been used to intercept the WhatsApp communications of a number of activists, journalists, and bureaucrats in India, leading to accusations that the Indian government was involved.
Phone numbers of Indian ministers, opposition leaders, ex-election commissioners and journalists were allegedly found on a database of NSO hacking targets by Project Pegasus in 2021.
Independent digital forensic analysis conducted on 10 Indian phones whose numbers were present in the data showed signs of either an attempted or successful Pegasus hack. The results of the forensic analysis threw up shows sequential correlations between the time and date a phone number is entered in the list and the beginning of surveillance. The gap usually ranges between a few minutes and a couple of hours.
11 phone numbers associated with a female employee of The Supreme Court of India and her immediate family, who accused the former Chief Justice of India, Ranjan Gogoi, of sexual harrasment, are also allegedly found on a database indicating possibility of their phones being snooped.
Records also indicate that phone numbers of some of the key political players in Karnataka appear to have been selected around the time when an intense power struggle was taking place between the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Janata Dal (Secular)-Congress-led state government in 2019.
It was reported that the Indian government used Pegasus to spy on Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan and diplomats from Iran, Afghanistan, China, Nepal and Saudi Arabia.
Use by Mexican drug cartels Reversing the intended use against criminals, Pegasus has been used to target and intimidate Mexican journalists by drug cartels and cartel-entwined government actors.
Use by Saudi Arabia Pegasus software, whose sales are licensed by the government of Israel to foreign governments, helped Saudi Arabia spy on Jamal Kashoggi, who was later killed in Turkey.
Pegasus was also used to spy on Jeff Bezos after Mohammed bin Salman, the crown-prince of Saudi Arabia, exchanged messages with him that exploited then-unknown vulnerabilities in WhatsApp.
At an operating weight of an astounding 1,000 tonnes, the 6090 FS is the world’s largest excavator. With twin Cummins QSK60 engines, it boasts and total engine rating of 3360 kW / 4500 HP. When Caterpillar expanded their mining capabilities with a purchase of Bucyrus in 2011, they based the 6090 FS on the Bucyrus RH400, which was originally launched in 1997. It can fill the largest Caterpillar dump truck (the 797) in only four passes based on its 52 m3 bucket with 93.6 tonne payload.
2 – Bucyrus RH 400 Excavator
Originally launched as the Terex RH 400 and rebranded when Bucyrus purchased the Terex mining division in 2010, this model has an operating weight of 980 tonnes. With identical engine capacity to the Caterpillar 6090 RS, it requires six car batteries to simply start the engines. It has previously set the hydraulic mining excavator world record for the ability to move up to 9,900 tonnes of material in a single hour. It previously held the title of world’s largest excavator, prior to the release of the Cat 6090 FS.
3 – Hitachi EX8000-6 Excavator
The largest excavator in the Hitachi fleet, the EX8000-6 offers the versatility of being fitted with either a 43.3 m3 backhoe bucket or a 40 m3 loading shovel. Boasting an operating weight up to 837 tonnes, it can fill the largest Hitachi dump truck (EH4000AC-3) in just five passes. The twin Cummins engines give a combined capacity of 2900 kW / 3888 HP. For perspective Hitachi’s flagship mining excavator the EX1200-6, has an engine capacity one sixth the size of this!
4 – Liebherr R9800 Excavator
With an operating weight up to 810 tonnes, the R9800 from Liebherr comes with the option of either MTU or Cummins diesel engines, or an electric drive version. The electric version is rated up to 2984 kW / 4000 HP. It’s 42 m3 shovel capacity or 47.5 m# backhoe capacity are designed to pair with the Liebherr T 264 or T 284 dump trucks for maximum efficiency.
5 – Komatsu PC8000-11 Excavator
Weighing up to 773 tonnes, this is the largest excavator in the Japanese manufacturers portfolio. Komatsu’s most frequently used model in the Australian/New Zealand market is the PC200-8 and it weighs over 36 times less than this behemoth. Its twin diesel engines give it a rating to 3000 kW / 4020 HP and it has shovel and backhoe capacity of 42 m3 (designed to integrate with trucks between 240 – 400 tonnes).
On a 1,666-square-foot curved LED screen in Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, a gigantic cat looms over the crowd near a busy railway station. Part of an experiment in “digital signage,” the scale of the feline is startling. Finally a pet cat worthy of Godzilla!
Jet suit developer Gravity Industries has joined forces with the Royal Marines to test its latest product for maritime boarding operations. The company said it spent three days with 42 Commando Royal Marines off the south coast of the UK. The suit was tested in exercises between two moving vessels as an alternative to boarding via helicopter fast-roping.