Get Your Flex On With The FlowIO Platform

flow IO module options

Hackaday Prize 2021 entry FlowIO Platform promises to be to pneumatics what Arduino is to Electronics. The modular platform comprises a common controller/valve block, a selection of differently sized pumps, and a few optional connectivity and sensing blocks. With Arduino software support as well as as Javascript and web-GUI, there’s a way to program this no matter what the level of experience the user has.

flowIO exploded view
flowIO exploded view from

This last point is a critical one for the mission [Ali Shtarbanov] from the MIT Media Lab is setting out for this project. He reminds us that in decades gone by, there was a significant barrier to entry for anyone building electronics prototypes. Information about how to get started was also much harder to by before the internet really got into gear.

It’s a similar story for software, with tools like Scratch and Python lowering the barrier to entry and allowing more people to get their toes wet and build some confidence.

But despite some earlier work by projects like the Soft Robotics Toolkit and Programmable-Air, making a start on lowering the bar for pneumatics support for soft robotics, and related applications, the project author still finds areas for further improvement. FlowIO was designed from the ground-up to be wearable. It appears to be much smaller, more portable and supports more air ports and a greater array of sensing and connectivity than previous Open Source work to date.

Creative Commons Hardware

Whilst you can take all the plans (free account signup required) and build yourself a FlowIO rig of your very own, the project author offers another solution. Following on from the Wikipedia model of free sharing and distribution of information, FlowIO offers its hardware for free, for the common good. Supported by donations to the project, more hardware is produced and distributed to those who need it. The only ask is that redundant kits are passed on or returned to base for upgrade, rather than landfill.

7 thoughts on “Get Your Flex On With The FlowIO Platform

  1. Would love to read more about the project… requires free sign-up?

    No actual data is on the project, it’s all links to their own site. I don’t want to be a part of their community, and I don’t want a bunch of spam (the only reason for requiring a free login), so this is a non-starter.

    Too bad – system looks really interesting.

    1. Hi Peter, thanks for your feedback and for sharing your concerns about the FlowIO project website. I think you raise some very valid concerns and good points. And I appreciate that you are bringing them up, because probably others have had them as well, without me realizing that until you mentioned it. Please allow me to clarify things a bit.

      The reason there is a login requirement (which applies only for accessing the design files and instructions on how to make it yourself), is to gauge the level of interest in people wanting to replicate FlowIO, and whether they are requesting those specific instructions and design files for commercial or noncommercial use. And that’s because, after all, FlowIO is still a research project, and this is part of the project’s research goals. If you have some alternative suggestions on how to do this, please let me know, as I am very open to exploring more options and making changes to the website if a better solution exists. And by the way, there is no email-spam, except for the occasional progress-update, or when a new firmware update is released.

      Thanks again for providing this valuable feedback and for finding the project interesting. I will look forward to hearing your suggestions about this or anything else you may have concerns about. Feel free to direct-message me as well if you prefer.

      1. I’m in complete agreement with PWalsh here.
        Much like that CAD library for parametric boxes and other parts a month or two ago that gave a peek at one design, then required creating an account to list the catalog of items let alone view them.

        He’s already spelled out pretty clearly the situation and the reason for his disagreement yet you are asking him to get in contact with you to give more information. Just what more detail do you need?

        Unless it’s a paid product, I don’t see the point of putting off people – who simply want to browse the awesome work you’ve done – by imposing their commitment first.

        1. Thanks for your reply and for another good point. The intent is not to put people off, but to ensure compliance with MIT and the Creative Commons license this project is licensed under. Specifically, FlowIO and the content on the website is provided under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 license (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0). Certain commercial uses are also possible but only with a permission from us. During the account creation process, one must indicate if their intent is commercial or noncommercial. And those with commercial interest will be reminded that that they should get a permission for their commercial endeavor involving FlowIO.

          In the future, we may remove the commercial restriction and the need for commercial-use permission. But while this is still a research project under MIT, this restriction will have to remain. And thus, the login screen helps protect people from accidentally doing something commercial, and later finding out that they didn’t secure the necessary permissions for it.

    2. It’s clear that a lot of work has been put into this project. They’ve also provided a lot of free resources for learning, yet your entitled ass still wants to complain about having to sign up to a website? Something tells me your membership wouldn’t be missed anyways.

      @FlowIO, if you’re reading this, project looks nuts. Going to register and learn a bit. Thank you.

      1. I’m sorry you got triggered.

        Is there something you could do, something you could learn or perhaps a person you could talk to, that would make you less likely to be triggered in the future?

        You have available options.

        Again, I’m sorry to hear how upset you were.

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