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