[FTC]: Using Vacuum instead of Pneumatics?

I just viewed a ‘How it’s Made’ about using a 12v vacuum pump, a latex balloon, some coffee grounds, and a showerhead to make a vacuum based gripper. I read in the rules that pneumatics were not allowed for FTC but nothing about vacuum operated systems to pick up the vortex ball. We are kicking around the idea of building a scissors styled extender with a vacuum system built in to hold the ball as it is extended. I like to keep things simple and robust and am thinking this is about as simple as it gets. Has anyone used a vacuum system before? What results did you have? Is this idea too far 'out there"/ Any pearls would be appreciated.


Steve Miller
Coach 10756
FTC Purple Vipers

Without looking at the FTC rules… Vacuum pumps are fairly energy hungry. You need to use a FTC legal motor which will limit your power. You will have a hard time making enough vacuum to be useful.

While it wasn’t fully a vacuum, LASA Robotics created a robot in 2014-2015 that pushed the Cascade Effect balls up a slevee to score them in the trailers by push air through the system and trapping it behind the balls, lifting them up as the air tried to escape.

The main issue you would have is the battery power/energy that it would take to make it work.

A few years ago, the “How It’s Made” system was discussed by a few teams. As a result of these discussions, coffee grounds and things like it were added to the “Illegal Parts” list of materials (as if the balloon broke and the small particles got all over the field, it would cause a delay). RG01-h specifically mentions coffee as not allowed.

I don’t think there’s any reason you couldn’t build a simple vacuum system though. The particle balls probably aren’t vacuumable as they have holes in them, but as you say the cap ball probably could be held in place on a lift by a vacuum. It would have to be a strong vacuum to hold it horizontally as it is lifted though, and it might be a challenge to build such a strong vacuum out of allowable parts? You’d also need to make sure that the vacuum isn’t so strong that it damages the cap ball itself. I could see a vacuumed cap ball develop a big “pimple” where the vacuum was.

If you try it, I’d love to see the results (regardless of whether or not it works fully or makes it on you competition robot)! Good luck!