Pneumatic Multiplexer

This is a pretty cool project [Sebastian Morales] is working on – a 3D printed Pneumatic Multiplexer. Large interactive installations, kinetic art and many other applications require large numbers of actuators to be controlled. For these type of projects to work, a large number of actuators equals higher resolution and that allows the viewer to be captivated by the piece.

The larger the system becomes, the more complex it becomes to control all of those actuators. [Sebestian] wanted to move a large number of components with a relatively low number of inputs. He thought of creating a mechanical equivalent of the familiar electronic X-Y matrix that can control large quantities of outputs using only a few inputs – in a more descriptive form, Outputs=(Inputs/2)^2.

airlogic_01He looked at chemical reactions that change liquids in to gases, but that seemed pretty complicated. Refrigerants used in air conditioning looked promising, but their handling and safety aspects looked challenging.

Eventually, he decided to look at using “air logic“. Air logic uses pneumatic devices to create relays, limit switches, AND gates, NAND gates, OR gates, amplifiers, equivalent to electrical circuits. Electrical energy is replaced with compressed air. His plan was to build a multiplexer whose elements would open only if the combination of pressure between both lines was the right one. As in electronics, NAND logic is easy to implement. A moving element creates a seal and only allows air out if the bottom line was low and the top line was high.

He had access to a high resolution, resin based 3D printer which allowed him to create fully air-tight systems. He started with prototyping a small 4×4 matrix to test out his design, and had to work through 6 to 7 iterations before he could get it to work. The next step was to create a larger matrix of 100 elements controlled by 20 inputs (10×10 matrix). He created Omnifarious – a kinetic sculpture demonstrating the concept of shapeshifting objects. The Omnifarious is a hexecontahedron which would be able to transform its surface to render different geometries via 59 balloons on its surface. Below, you can check the videos of his progress building the various prototypes and another video showing the Omnifarious sculpture.

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Galactic Dimension – a supersized DIY pinball machine

If you are from the 1960’s or 1970’s we know you would have enjoyed furiously punching the buttons of a pin ball machine back in the day. Installation artist [Niklas Roy] recently revisited this old classic game and built Galactic Dimension – a supersized pinball machine for Phæno – an amazing science center in the German city of Wolfsburg. The science centre was planning a big exhibition featuring thirty beautiful, classic pinball machines loaned from the Pacific Pinball Museum in Alameda, California.

The game machine was built on a steep ramp and has a gigantic play field measuring 3m x 6m (10’x20′). It features Sci-Fi game elements in the play field which blend perfectly with the futuristic building where it is housed. The game elements are built from repurposed everyday items like hair dryers and fans, giving visitors the motivation to build some of their own such contraptions.

The players operate the machine via a control desk, and a giant calculator is used to display the game score. The steep ramp had an incline of almost 30° which meant that he had to use a light ball to be able to propel it around the play field. The main user controls are the two flippers, and building giant ones was a big challenge. Solenoids or coils would not cut the ice, and he settled for pneumatic cylinders – easy to control, powerful, not too loud, and the museum already had a compressed air supply readily available. But it still took him three iterations before he could get it right. The plunger, which initially propels the ball, was built from PVC pipes and a hair dryer. Each play field element was built as a separate module to make assembly and maintenance easier. All featured a 220V AC supply, a sensor (either an IR distance sensor or a light barrier) to detect the ball, and an Arduino. Actuators were built from hair dryers and portable fans. Each of them have their own sound effects too – either a hacked toy or a speaker controlled by the Arduino. After everything was built, taken apart, transported, and reassembled at the site, the Galactic Dimension worked without a glitch, and without releasing any magic smoke. To top it off, Andreas Harre, who’s been the German pinball champion for several years in a row, also played the machine when he visited Phæno – and was totally excited about it!

So if you are in that part of Germany anytime until September, do drop in and try to ring up a big score. For photos of his build log, check out the photo album. There’s also a fairly big block diagram (German) and the Arduino sketches (.zip file), if you’d like to take a stab at building an even bigger pinball machine. Check the video to see the machine in action. And if the name [Niklas] sounds familiar, it is because he loves building installations such as the Forbidden Fruit Machine, the Ball Sucking Machine, and another Ball Sucking Machine.

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Hackaday Links: November 9, 2014

After many years of searching, [Dan Wood] finally got his hands on something he’s wanted for the past twenty-two years: an Amiga 4000. No, it’s not the queen bee of Amiga land – that honor would fall to the 68060-equipped 4000T, but [Dan]’s 4000 is decked out. It has a 256MB RAM expansion, Ethernet, USB, and a Picasso IV graphics card that gives it better resolution and color depth than most modern laptops.

[Pistonpedal] has a fully automatic pneumatic can crusher that is far too cool to be wasted on a case of Keystone. A funnel at the top guides the cans in to be crushed one at a time and ejected into a garbage can underneath. Great for recycling.

Coming over from ‘normal’ programming into the world of embedded development? [AndreJ] has the AVR C Macro for you. It’s a great way to get away from all those ~=, |=, and &=s that don’t make any sense at all.

[CNLohr] has a reputation for running Minecraft servers on things that don’t make any sense at all. The latest build is a light up redstone ore block equipped with an ESP8266 WiFi chip.

Oh, the Hackaday overlords and underlings are in Munich for this little shindig we’re doing. If you in town for Electronica come on down. If you have a copy of Neil Young’s Trans, bring it to the party.

Ask Hackaday: Who is Going to Build This Pneumatic Transmission Thing?


Disney research is doing what they do best, building really cool stuff for Disney and telling the rest of the world how cool they are. This time, it’s a very low friction fluid transmission device designed for animatronics.

From testing a few toy robotic arms, we can say without a doubt that servos and motors are not the way to go if you’re designing robots and animatronics that need lifelike motion. To fix this, a few researchers at Disney Pittsburgh have turned to pneumatics and hydraulics, where one joint is controlled by two sets of pistons. It’s extremely similar to the pneumatic LEGO, but more precise and much more lifelike.

The system uses a pair of cylinders on each joint of a robot. Disney is using a rolling diaphragm to seal the working fluid in its tubes and cylinders. This is an extremely low-friction device without any shakiness or jitters found with simple o-ring pneumatics and hydraulics.

The system is backdriveable, meaning one robotic arm can control another, and the other way around. Since we’re dealing with hydraulics, the cylinders (and robotic/animatronic devices) don’t need to be the same size; a small device could easily control a larger copy of itself, and vice versa.

The devices are fairly simple, with gears, toothed belts, and bits of plastic between them. The only unique part of these robots is the rolling diaphragm, and we have no idea where to source this. It looks like it would be great for some robotics or an Iron Man-esque mech suit, but being able to source the components will be a challenge.

You can check out the videos of these devices below, and if you have any idea on how to build your own, leave a note in the comments.

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Red Bull Creation: i3 Detroit

If there’s one thing I learned about Detroit last weekend, it’s that it is freaking huge. It’s an unbelievably large city, and looking at the population numbers, you can really start to see the problem of providing city services to such a large area. With such a sparse population, it’s the ideal environment for experimentations in urban farming, after a few seasons of planting crops that will leech everything out of the soil of course.

If you have a farm, you’re going to need some means of irrigation, and you might as well throw a scarecrow in there as well, giving i3 Detroit the idea for RoboCrop, the perfect project for an urban farm or anyone who is putting on a production of The Wizard Of Oz but is a little shorthanded for a full cast.

RoboCrop is an all-in-one irrigation and bird and small mammal scaring device, controllable with webcam video streamed right to the remote. It’s a fun project, and fits right into the apparent unofficial “urban gardening” theme of this year’s Red Bull Creation.

i3 is also the largest and arguably the best equipped hackerspace in the Detroit region. They were kind enough to let us throw a little get together there last weekend where we gave away a 3D printer for The Hackaday Prize. Good times all around. We’ll have a video tour of i3 up a little bit later.

DIY Pneumatic Skeleton and Air Horn Gag to Scare Those Trick-Or-Treaters


[Rick Osgood] has been busy making more scaring gags for Halloween. This week he’s sharing great ideas for an air horn and pneumatic jumping skeleton, both actuated by 24 V sprinkler valves. These two new gags can easily be activated using [Rick’s] cardboard floor plate switch and three 9 V batteries cleverly snapped together in series for a 27 V supply (we can’t resist dropping in this link to a 2196 V supply from 9 V batteries just for fun).

The air horn construction is quite unique using a latex balloon strategically located as a reed valve for the air to vibrate over as it rushes out making a very loud honking sound. [Rick] then connected his manual bicycle pump to an air supply so that when an air valve is actuated the bicycle pump handle with a skeleton wired to it pops up. It then lowers back down via a bleed hole in the air line. Both the air horn and pneumatic pop-up skeleton seem simple to construct and his tests show them functioning perfectly.

Being the air storage chambers are small the re-trigger setup seems too repetitive to be practical for a continuous stream of Trick-Or-Treaters. Perhaps one could hide an air compressor with a long feed line to supply the gags? Plus, using an air compressor would come in handy for other scary blasts of air. Of course you would want to lower the compressor’s output regulator to safe levels so you don’t risk blowing apart your pop-up skeleton rig or any pipes.

Follow along after the break to see how to build these two great gags and get some tips from Mr. Safety.

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Tooth Fairy goes pneumatic


Kids’ fantasy figures are long overdue for some tech upgrades, so MAKE’s [Jeff Highsmith] carved a few holes in the walls and built a pneumatic transport system for his children to deliver their teeth to the Tooth Fairy. The project uses a system of 1.5″ PVC pipe with a central vacuum in the attic and two endpoint stations, one in each child’s room. Alternating which station has the closed valve and open door dictates the airflow path and shuttles a small plastic travel bottle from one station to the next.

Each station has its own iPhone interface that sends data to a Raspberry Pi and relays information, including a simulated map indicating the travel path taken by the tooth. Apart from controlling the vacuum via one of the Pi’s GPIO, the phone serves primarily as a visual distraction for the children while one parent sneaks off into the other room and replaces the tooth with some pocket change. [Jeff] made sure to add a locking door on each station to limit access and hopefully keep the mystery alive.

Watch his son’s face light up with sheer glee at the whole event in the video below, and regret that your childhood happened before the maker revolution. Then celebrate your adulthood with a beer fetching robot.

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