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FlowIO Platform

Miniature, modular pneumatics toolkit for control & sensing of Soft Robots and Programmable Materials, developed at MIT Media Lab

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FlowIO is a miniature, modular, pneumatic development platform with a software toolkit for control, actuation, and sensing of soft robots and programmable materials. Five pneumatic ports and multiple fully-integrated modules to satisfy various pressure, flow, and size requirements make FlowIO suitable for most wearable and non-wearable pneumatic applications in HCI and soft robotics. FlowIO includes a software stack with APIs, Bluetooth capabilities, and web-GUI supported on all major mobile and desktop operating systems. The system is fully compatible with Arduino, JavaScript, and Google Chrome, while support for Scratch, Python, and Unity is planned for future development, making FlowIO suitable for makers from any technical background. Over a dozen people have used the FlowIO platform, ranging from high-school and college students to graduate students and researchers. FlowIO was designed to strip barriers to entry into the growing field of soft programmable materials.

All project details, including complete instructional series for how to replicate and make FlowIO are provided at https://www.softrobotics.io/flowio

You can also read the open-access research paper https://doi.org/10.1145/3411763.3451513, reproduced below as well.

Projects powered by FlowIO: https://www.softrobotics.io/projects

Intro to Soft Robotics workshop with tips, tricks, and resources:  https://www.softrobotics.io/workshop-intro

List of labs doing work with soft programmable materials: https://www.softrobotics.io/labs

List of relevant review papers in the field:  https://www.softrobotics.io/reviews


*** If you are interested in helping with this vision and the broader mission, lets work together! ***


Mission: 

I believe that access to creative opportunities should be a human right and not a privilege reserved for only those who have the means to afford the tools, resources, and education needed for technological innovation. Some of the most transformative inventions and breakthroughs the world needs may never materialize because the people who may one day make those breakthroughs,  may never get the opportunity to explore a path that would lead them towards those transformative ideas. The world today more than ever ideas and innovation to solve some of the greatest challenges we've ever faced on a global scale. And while talent is everywhere, opportunity is not.  

My overarching mission is to make technological creativity, innovation, and exploration easier and more accessible to people from all backgrounds through the development of novel enabling platform technologies that focus on emerging fields. I developed FlowIO to enable rapid prototyping opportunities in soft robotics and programmable materials, and to make these fields more accessible to researchers, engineers, makers, artists, and students. Learn more about FlowIO by watching the video above and by visiting the About page. 


Ali Shtarbanov. 2021. FlowIO Development Platform – the Pneumatic “Raspberry Pi” for Soft Robotics. In CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’21 Extended Abstracts), May 08–13, 2021, Yokohama, Japan. ACM, New York, NY, USA, 6 pages. https://doi.org/10.1145/3411763.3451513

Figure 1: (a) The FlowIO platform with all modules.  (b, c, d) Three application scenarios utilizing the small, medium, and large pump modules for (b) wearable, (c) desktop, and (d) hybrid wearable & desktop applications, respectively.

Motivation:

Platform technologies such as Arduino, Raspberry Pi, Lego Mindstorms, and Scratch have liberated entire fields by diminishing barriers to entry. Arduino transformed electronics, Raspberry Pi – portable computing, Lego Mindstorms – robotics, and Scratch – programming. These and similar platforms have not only made esoteric fields more accessible for artists, designers, and makers, but they have also enabled researchers and engineers to prototype more rapidly. For instance, a prototype that two decades ago may have required a small team of engineers and a week of work in a lab setting with expensive equipment to build, today could be done in a weekend, by a high-school student, in their living room! This transformation, I believe, is thanks to: (1) the availability of platforms and tools that are easy to learn and use; (2) the emergence of modules from companies like Adafruit, designed specifically for popular platforms; and (3) a growing community that is continuously contributing software, projects, ideas, tutorials, and other content – inspiring even more people to be part of that community as both users and contributors.

Today, prototyping in soft robotics and programmable materials has high barriers to entry and is as inaccessible to most people as electronics prototyping was two decades ago. This problem exists because the three aforementioned factors that transformed electronics prototyping...

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  • 1 × All required components listed at: https://www.softrobotics.io/parts

  • 1
    The complete build series is provided at https://www.softrobotics.io/flowio

    The complete series for replicating FlowIO, with graphics and videos, is available at https://www.softrobotics.io/flowio 

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