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Interactive Air-Powered Robot Arm

We have developed a new method for puppeteers to remotely control mechanical characters without the use of motors. The pair of robot arms shown in this video are connected only by flexible pneumatic tubing. There are no pumps, valves, sensors, motors, or electronic controllers used. The passive connection between the two arms is made entirely by air pressure, allowing a large separation between the character and the puppeteer, and tight bends in the air control lines. The key technology is an ultra-low friction pneumatic transmission, enabled by the use of rolling diaphragm seals, instead of traditional sliding o-ring seals. If motorized, the transmission allows the motors to be placed in the body, rather than mounted to the arm, leaving the arms much lighter, and capable of faster and more graceful motion. The robot arm in this video was designed and built by Tianyao Chen, Peter Whitney, and Jessica Hodgins.


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