Robotics & Motors
Arduino

Programmable-Air

A portable hardware kit for experimenting with pneumatics

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Programmable-Air is a hardware toolkit that allows you to inflate and deflate objects. It has everything you need to start playing with pneumatics and inflatables including high pressure and vacuum pumps, valves, and a pressure sensor on board. Pneumatics opens up a world of possibilities for a maker to explore:

Here’s what beta testers have made with Programmable-Air:

Birthday Cake 3000 by Rashida Kamal

This birthday cake erupts glitter with a puff of air when you cut into it. So named for the 3000 milliseconds of delay between you cutting the cake (which is recognised by capacitive touch) and the glitter bomb setting off. Let there be edible pneumatics!

FLXO by Arnav Wagh

FLXO is a thinking tool for soft-robotics exploration. It’s a

kit consisting of modular interlocking pneumatic muscles which easily integrate with other robotics kits on the market. At present it’s designed to integrate with the VeX robotics platform.

Origami Gripper by Aditya Bhatt

Inspired by a similar gripper from MIT CSAIL, Aditya and I made a simpler version of a gripper with amazing gipping force.

Mechanics of Being Human by Julia Rich

Julia Rich used Programmable-Air to power a silicone-casted heart. The heart beats faster the closer you get to it. It is a part of her larger artistic project The Mechanics of Being Human.

Foxy Lovelace by Kimberly Lin

In Foxy Lovelace - Kim made a cyborg femme fatale who blows a bubble out of her artificial lips.

Demos

Crawling Critter

This crawling critter is a three-compartment silicone soft robot. I made it as an homage to how the project started, based on a crawling robot. A detailed tutorial on this is forthcoming.

Vacuum Pickup

I assembled most of the Programmable-Air PCBs using other Programmable-Air boards with this vacuum pickup! The Deluxe Kit has everything you need to make this.

Mr. Piggy aka Squishy Switch

The pressure sensor allows you to detect sudden spikes in pressure caused by say someone pressing on a soft robot connected to the board. Here, Mr. Piggy is controlling the lights using the sensor. But the cool part is that this is a ridiculously scalable sensor. Imagine a long tube connected to the board and, say, wrapped around a bumper car…

Jamming Gripper

A balloon filled with coffee grounds on a 3D-printed holder. Generally, the coffee grounds are free to move around. When you pull a vacuum inside the balloon, the coffee particles jam together and practically become a solid. This allows you to lift irregularly shaped objects much better than a traditional ‘hard’ gripper.

Open Soft Machines Pouch Actuators

Open Soft Machines make amazingly detailed recipes to make soft robot actuators. Some of them can be controlled by Programmable-Air.

Lift Me Off

Pneumatics is kinda weird because you can get a ridiculous mechanical advantage out of it. For example, if you fill a 6" x 6" pouch with air at 0.5 bar(~7 PSI) you can lift more than 100 Kg (250 lb) of weight! So, you can easily lift a person with Programmable-Air.

Inflatable Pushup Bra by Eldy Steph Lazaro

Eldy used Programmable-Air to power her amazing inflatable pushup bra at TEI 2019. The bra automatically customizes its shape to support users with asymmetrical breasts.

Popcorn Bucket by Gilad Dor

In Popcorn Bucket, Gilad uses Programmable-Air to make a fast linear actuator using a syringe.

How It Works

Programmable-Air is packed with:

It’s all controllable via an onboard Arduino Nano.

The output from Programmable-Air is a single tube that goes into your soft robot or pneumatic actuator. By controlling the motors and valves, you can push air in or out of the actuator, or let it exchange air with the atmosphere. All while you get feedback about the state of the actuator through the pressure sensor.

The Programmable-Air library makes it easy to control the valves and pumps. Simple functions like blow(), suck(), vent(), and readPressure() cover most of the basic use cases. There is detailed documentation on the project GitHub.

Pinout

Features & Specifications

Comparisons

Programmable-AirPneuduinoSoft Robotics Toolkit
Makerstinkrmind - NYU Jifie Ou - MIT-
AvailabilityNow Private beta onlySelf-assembled
Cost$175 for everything $~400 for similar capabilities$1000 for everything
Ease of useEasyMediumHard
PortabilityHigh LowLow
Pressure rangeMedium HighHigh
Flow rateMedium HighHigh

Support & Documentation

Programmable-Air was built as an educational tool. You can find getting started instructions for the project at the project website and the project GitHub. The project website has some detailed guides and tutorials on making soft robots.

Kit Contents

Starter Kit

Get going with Programmable-Air! Featuring:

All you need to kick-off is an Arduino Nano, power supply (12 V, 1.5 A barrel jack), and a USB cord.

Deluxe Kit

Get started with inflatable robotics right away. The Deluxe Kit comes with:

Motivation and Design Decisions

Programmable-Air started when I saw a video of a crawling soft robot from Harvard, made back in 2011. (The video has since been taken down.) I wanted to make a similar robot. After little searching, I realized that it’s very easy to make such a robot. You just 3D print and cast a mold in silicone. There are free and open source tools available to design, model, and test such robots. But the tools available to control the soft robots are too expensive, and difficult to use and modify. After thinking about it a little, I was surprised how actuation through air control (that is pneumatics) is practically absent from the maker toolbelt. So I decided to make a tool for hobbyists and makers to control inflatable soft robots. I wanted it to be cost effective, portable, easy to setup and modify, and easy to use.

I tested a bunch of pumps, valves, and pressure sensors and found electro-pneumatics to be much more challenging than electronics. This is mainly because with electro-pneumatics, you also have to ensure that the components are pneumatically compatible (i.e. support the same pressure range, flow rate, and nozzle size) on top of being electrically compatible. The fact that most cheap components have minimal, if any, datasheets doesn’t help much either. You wouldn’t believe how many pumps, valves, and pressure sensors I had to try to find ones that have the same nozzle size!

I finally settled on a pump used traditionally in electronic blood pressure monitors and for boosting oxygen pressure at patient beds in hospitals. The electronic valves are traditionally used in Keurig machines. I opted to use an analog pressure sensor rather than a digital one because I could bring the BOM cost down by ~$20 just by designing my own amplifier for it.

I hope you enjoy using it as much as I enjoyed designing it.

Media Buzz


Programmable-Air is part of Microchip Get Launched!

In the Press

Geeky Gadgets

"[Programmable-Air] enabl[es] you to program your very own pneumatic system,"

CNX Software

"The kit is ready to go right out of the box, so you don’t need to purchase additional power supplies, cables, pumps, tubes, or valves."

Hackster News

"I have big plans for this already... do you know about wacky waving inflatable arm flailing tube men?"

Hackaday

Hackaday

"Soft robotics is an exciting field. Mastering the pneumatic control of pliable materials has enormous potential, from the handling of delicate objects to creating movement with no moving parts."

Arduino Blog

"Programmable-Air pneumatics kit puts everything you need for simple air power experimentation into one package."


Hackaday

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Produced by tinkrmind in Brooklyn, NY.

Sold and shipped by Crowd Supply.

Programmable-Air Deluxe Kit

Make your soft robot! Comes with a Programmable-Air board with an Arduino-compatible Nano, power supply, micro USB cord, extra silicone tubing and pneumatic connectors, materials to make handheld vacuum pickup and to make jamming grippers. All packed in a beautiful foam case.

$199 $8 US Shipping / $18 Worldwide

About the Team

tinkrmind

Brooklyn, NY

Physicist, turned maker, artist, and engineer. Amitabh enjoys solving inter-disciplinary problems in electronics, mechanics and human-computer interaction. Currently pursuing master's at ITP, NYU where he seeks to learn everything it takes to turn a napkin sketch into a product.

Amitabh Shrivastava

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