Pneumatics are a great solution for all kinds of actuators, and can even be used for logic operations if you’re so inclined. Typically, such actuators rely on nicely machined metal components with airtight rubber seals. But what if you did away with all that? [Richard Sewell] decided to investigate.
The result is a pneumatic actuator built out of lasercut acetal parts. The mechanism consists of of two outer layers of plastic acting as the enclosure, and a cut-out middle layer which creates the air chamber and houses the actuating arm itself. It’s a single-acting design, meaning the air can push the actuator one way, with a spring for return to the neutral position. The action is quite fast and snappy, too.
[Richard] aims to tweak the design further by improving the registration between the features of each layer and reduce the rubbing of the actuator’s rotor on the surrounding parts. If you’ve got the know-how, sound off in the comments. Alternatively, consider looking into soft pneumatics as well. Video after the break.
[James Bruton]’s impressive portfolio of robots has always used conventional rigid components, so he decided to take a bit of a detour and try his hand at a soft robot. Using a couple of few inflatable pool noodles for quick prototyping, his experiments quickly showed some of the strengths and weaknesses of soft robots.
Most of the soft robots we see require an external air source to inflate cells in the robot and make the limbs actuate. Taking inspiration from a recent Stanford research project, [James] decided to take an alternative approach, using partially inflated tubes and squeezing them in one section to make the other sections more rigid. He bought a couple of cheap pool noodles and experimented with different methods of turning them into actuators. The approach he settled on was a pair of noodles tied together side by side, and then folded in half by an elastic cord. As one end is squeezed by a servo bellows, the internal pressure overcomes the tension from the elastic cord, and the “elbow” straightens out.
[James] tested various arrangements of these limbs to build a working hexapod robot but to no avail. The simple actuating mechanism was simply too heavy, and could just lift itself slightly. This highlighted a common theme in almost all the soft pneumatic robots we’ve seen: they carry very little weight and are always tethered to an external air supply. The combination of stretchy materials and relatively low pressure compressed air can only handle small loads, at least in Earth gravity and above water. Continue reading “Pool Noodle Robot Shines A Light On The Pros And Cons Of Soft Robots”→
A lot of us have nostalgia for our childhood toys, and as long as they’re not something like lawn darts that nostalgia often leads to fun upgrades since some of us are adults with industrial-sized air compressors. Classics like Super Soakers and Nerf guns are especially popular targets for improvements, and this Nerf machine gun from [Emiel] is no exception.
The build takes a Nerf ball-firing toy weapon and basically tosses it all out of the window in favor of a custom Nerf ball launching rifle. He starts with the lower receiver and machines a pneumatic mechanism that both loads a ball into the chamber and then launches it. This allows the rifle to be used in both single-shot mode and also in fully-automatic mode. From there, a barrel is fashioned along with the stock and other finishing touches.
A few weeks ago, a video went viral on social media that depicted a rather unsavory individual receiving what could be described as a “percussive reminder” of social norms courtesy of a bystander armed with a can of Twisted Tea. The video served as inspiration for many a meme, but perhaps none more technically intricate than this air cannon that launches 24 ounces of hard iced tea at better than 100 miles per hour built by [Greg Bejtlich].
Technically we’re looking at two different hacks here. The first is the pneumatic launcher put together using a low-cost eBay tire bead seater. These tools are designed to unleash a large volume of air into a tire so it can be properly seated onto the rim, but it doesn’t take much more than a few pieces of PVC pipe from the hardware store to turn it into an impromptu mortar. It’s even got a convenient trigger and a handle to help control the recoil. Though as you can see in the video after the break, it still ends up being a bit too energetic for [Greg] to keep a grip on.
For the projectiles, [Greg] has 3D printed a nose cone and tail fin that snap onto the 24 oz cans in hopes of making them more aerodynamically stable. The slow motion video seems to indicate they aren’t terribly effective, but they certainly look impressive. Spring-loaded control surfaces that deploy after the can leaves the muzzle could be the answer, though at some point you have to ask yourself how far you’re willing to go for an Internet meme.
Inspired by the creative genius of Martin Molin of Wintergatan fame, [iSax] set out to create a robotic MIDI-controlled trombone. It takes years for humans to develop the control and technique required to play the trombone well as the tone produced into the mouthpiece (embouchure) is a tricky combination of air pressure, lip tension, airflow, resonance in the mouth, and other sources of complex pressure.
[iSax] gives a thorough walkthrough of the machine, which is powered by two separate sources of air, one for the position of the slide and the other for producing sound. A potentiometer provides feedback on the position of the slide and a servo controls the flow rate into the silicone resonance chamber. The chamber can be tuned via a stepper motor that applies pressure, slightly altering the chamber’s frequency and pressure. An Arduino with Firmata allows the device to controlled easily from any host computer. A detailed writeup in PDF form is on the Hackday.io project page.
As you can imagine, simulating a human mouth is a daunting task and the number of variables meant that [iSax] ended up with something only vaguely trombone-like. While ultimately it didn’t turn out to be the astounding music machine that [iSax] hoped, it did end up being a fun feat of engineering we can appreciate and admire. Progress towards automatic brass instruments seems to be coming slowly as we saw similar results with this robotic trumpet. Maybe someday we’ll have robot brass sections, but not today.
Normally when we run across a project that claims to be overengineered, we admit that we get a little excited. Such projects always hold the potential for entertainingly over-the-top designs, materials, and methods. In this case, though, we’ll respectfully disagree with [Zach Hipps] assessment of his remote-controlled soda bottle rocket launcher as “overengineered”. To us, it seems just right.
That’s not to take away from anything accomplished with this build. Indeed, we’re mighty impressed by the completeness of the build, which was intended to create a station for charging and launching air-powered water rockets. The process started with a prototype, built mainly from 3D-printed parts but with a fair selection of workshop scraps to hold it together. This allowed [Zach] to test the geometry of the parts, operation of the mechanism, and how it interfaced with the flange on the necks of 2-liter soda bottles.
Honestly, the prototype was pretty good by itself and is probably where many of us would have stopped, but [Zach] kept going. He turned most of the printed parts into machined aluminum and Delrin, making for a very robust pneumatically operated stand. We’ve got to say the force with which the jaws close around the bottle flange is a bit scary — looks like it could easily clip off a wayward finger. But if he manages to avoid that fate, such a hearty rig should keep [Zach] flying for a long time. Perhaps it could even launch a two-stage water rocket?
If you think about building a moving machine, you probably will consider wheels or tracks or maybe even a prop to take you airborne. When [nwlauer] found an earthworm in the garden, it inspired a 3D-printed robot that employs peristaltic motion. You can see a video of it moving, below.
The robot uses pneumatics and soft plastic, and is apparently waterproof. Your printer’s feed path has to be pretty rigid to support flexible filament without jamming. There’s also some PVA filament and silicone tubing involved.