Air Muscles: Make an Artificial Muscle Robot Controller

Picture of Air Muscles: Make an Artificial Muscle Robot Controller
Here are two ways to make a controller that can control artificial air muscles. The intro pic shows the more elaborate version that can control up to 11 air muscles using robot neurons. It is shown activating an air muscle robot gripper that is being developed.

Also explained in this instructable, is a more basic version that can control 5 air muscles with a more conventional circuit.

The air muscle controller can be controlled by infrared LEDs using a standard universal remote. In this way, individual muscles or sequences of muscles can be activated.

These air muscles are cast using layers of thin sheets of plastic and wood as molds. A laser cutter would greatly speed up the process and accuracy of creating Oogoo air muscle molds.

Pic 2 shows the finished arm and gripper which is explained in a separate instructable:
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Step 1: How It Works

Picture of How It Works
Although it looks a little bit Rube Goldberg, The 11 channel air muscle controller is fairly simple in concept.  A Picaxe microcontroller (master Neuron) is controlled by an infrared remote control. The master neuron then sends signals to two activator neurons which control 14 solenoid air valves. The master neuron also controls a motor controller which controls the speed of a motor driven pressure/vacuum pump.

Up to 11 separate air muscles can be activated and a tethered robot thus controlled. Pressure, exhaust, or vacuum can be connected to one or more muscles at a time. This is a low pressure system that operates at about 5 to 9 PSI. This is mainly because the $3 solenoids can only hold a maximum of about 11 PSI.

The air muscles are made of Oogoo, an inexpensive silicone caulk mixture that can be cast or molded into endless flexible objects.

cinosencio243 months ago

I need help!!!! I am 11 years old and really want to build this for a robot I would like to build. But I haven't seen any of this kind of stuff before. Can you comment back and try to help me by making it simpler?

mikey77 (author)  cinosencio243 months ago

This is university level robotics, or beyond. Not a good starting point for a beginner.

If you are serious about learning how to build robots you can start by:

1-learn how to program a single micro-controllers like a Picaxe or Arduino to control servos or gearmotors.

2-Once you can build a single micro-controller robot, you can look into programming more than one micro-controller inter-connected as a single controller.

There is an abundance of information on how to do this on Instructables and the internet..

If you are serious you will have the patience and take the time required to learn what you do not know.

Best wishes,


cinosencio243 months ago

Does it cost a lot of money, how do you make the tinkertrons, and is there any way that one controller could control 2 arms?

Hobbie Expert9 months ago

i cant find the couplings You used a y other "pack" i could use

That capacitor seems an unlikely power source but I don't see another purpose for it, nor any other power cables. How is it being powered?
bfk2 years ago
Idea: Small balloons filled with jambable material like ground coffee mounted at the finger tips would give your gripper the ability to grasp virtually any shape of object including coins and pills, or soft objects like paper or cloth. You are already using air pressure to move the arm and gripper. Adding jambable finger tips would be an easy thing to do... Just an idea.
rocketman202 years ago
What is your estimated total cost. Looks very cool
mikey77 (author)  rocketman202 years ago
The controller and arm and gripper cost about $260.
dantistus2 years ago
So cool! Thank you very much for sharing your experience, I am fascinated by the idea of air- and water-powered robots.
mikey77 (author)  dantistus2 years ago
I am too.

What about a water tower to act as a compressor and provide the pressure for the air muscles?

A solar panel could heat up some water and steam it to the top of the water tower where it could condense. This would maintain the height of the water in the tower.

A really clean, water and solar powered robot.
Edgar2 years ago
Great! :D
I keep thinking on Fabricating uses for this, and even Garage Machine-tools for home-made micro assembly lines!
A note about this is on my Blog:
Edgar2 years ago
sitearm2 years ago
@mikey77; Hi! Cool idea. I've tweeted this. "The interesting possibilities of soft robot muscles" indeed. Cheers : ) Site
Hugh Jorgan2 years ago
Air tastic ! truly cooly :)
Honus2 years ago
neivadan2 years ago
cool !!
Nice of to you follow up on my idea i posted on an earlier instructable you did. I've never had the funds but thats why i share thoes ideas! keep doing good Mikey77. ;)
randofo2 years ago
Wow. This is super-cool. Do you have a video of it working?
mikey77 (author)  randofo2 years ago
Not yet.

I am working on refining the gripper and attaching it to the arm.

Once I have an arm and gripper that can pick up things and move them, I will definitely post a new instructable with a video.

Thank you, for seeing and appreciating the interesting possibilities of soft robot muscles.
iceng2 years ago
You do good work...
mikey77 (author)  iceng2 years ago

From someone who can do printed circuits better than I will ever do, that is a complement indeed.