Maker Faire NY: Programmable Air

At this year’s World Maker Faire in New York City we’re astonished and proud to run into some of the best projects that are currently in the running for the Hackaday Prize. One of these is Programmable Air, from [Amitabh], and it’s the solution to pneumatics and pressure sensing in Maker and IoT devices.

The idea behind Programmable Air is to create the cheapest, most hacker-friendly system for dealing with inflatable and vacuum-based robotics. Yes, pneumatic robotics might sound weird, but there’s plenty of projects that could make use of a system like this. The Glaucus is one of the greatest soft robotic projects we’ve ever seen, and it turns a bit of silicone into a quadruped robot with no moving parts. The only control you have over this robot is inflating one side or the other while watching this silicone slug slowly crawl forward. This same sort of system can be expanded to a silicone robot tentacle, too.

On display at the Programmable Air booth were three examples of how this device could be used. The first was a simple pressure sensor — a weird silicone pig with some tubing coming out of the nostrils was connected to the Programmable Air module. Squeeze the pig, and some RGB LEDs light up. The second demo was a balloon inflating and deflating automatically. The third demo was a ‘jamming gripper’, basically a balloon filled with rice or coffee grounds, connected to a pump. If you take this balloon, jam it onto an odd-shaped object and suck the air out, it becomes a gripper for a robotic arm. All of these are possible with Programmable Air.

Right now, [Amitabh] has just finalized the design and is getting ready to move into mass production. You can get some updates for this really novel air-powered robotics platform over on the main website, or check out the project over on

10 thoughts on “Maker Faire NY: Programmable Air

  1. Soft robotic love…….
    It might not be mainstream, but you KNOW it’s already happening. Just think. Socially awkward robotics geek, too introverted for the destructive mayhem and the limelight of B@ttle B@ts, at home, alone with his latest soft robotics creation….
    Anything could happen!
    Just sayin’!

    Just make sure you bring hand sanitizer when you go to the Maker Faire.

  2. It is more challenging to build a logic-based system when there is *zero* electricity available.

    I was once called in to assess whether a micro (or even bog-standard TTL/CMOS) should replace such a mission-critical system. I concluded that the existing system was adequate and replacing it with a a micro was a bad option.

    The location was unmanned offshore oil rigs, and the logic system ensured that different valves on the well-head could only be opened in certain orders and under certain conditions. Getting that wrong meant large explosions.

    So, how was the interlock logic powered? From the well itself. The *pneumatic* logic ran at 2000-4000psi.

    From memory, and-gates, or-gates, inverters and flip-flops were available.

    That might make an interesting “retro hardware” article for hackaday.

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