How do we make pneumatics interesting again?

From chatter and my own two eyes inspecting at PCH Charleston and Galileo this year, it’s clear that pneumatics systems have fallen out of favor with a lot of teams this year (and recent years before it). You can trace it to a lot of things–having to package the compressor onboard now, the rise of small 200W brushless motors, the legality of COTS linear actuators, so on so forth.

And I get it. But at the same time, I think there’s something inherently cool about pneumatics and exposing kids to more than one way of doing motion on a robot. I think we’d lose something if pneumatics died out entirely, and it would surely run off a few longtime FIRST suppliers who are happy to keep contributing pneumatics parts.

So how do we bring the magic back and make pneumatics enticing again?

I don’t have the answers, but hopefully we can communally spitball something that FIRST HQ might consider for the future.

The only real rule in this thread is that “give up, pneumatics is over” is not allowed.

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Motor limits would do the trick. Anything short of that and the cost benefit analysis for pneumatics will almost always point to the fact that they aren’t worth it in modern FRC.

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Don’t need to do anything, the pendulum will swing back when people see they can get a competitive advantage in certain (very specific) areas when using them.

Also they get more appealing for more teams if you let them fill their tanks with offboard shop compressors like we do at home.

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I understand that pneumatic systems are a cool way to teach kids about fluids and linear motion, but from a robot engineering perspective I’d encourage teams to run away from pneumatics as fast as possible.

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Hydraulics. Would fit with water game. Maybe to give an actual reason, robots would have to hoist themselves and heavy weighted game prices onto a “ship” for endgame.

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Why? There are cases where its a fantastic solution and keeps things simple.

2056’s Climber this year I heard was quoted as a ‘0 Second Climb’, was an incredibly simple and robust system.

Yeah theres drawbacks of pneumatics. Having to deal with compressors and airtanks is annoying, but it can also lead to some pretty awesome solutions as well. When used correctly they are fantastic.

I just don’t think sticking a brushless motor on everything is always the solution.

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I don’t understand this comment TBH.

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I think bringing back offboard compressors would go a long way to help. It makes the cost of ceding that first pneumatic actuator much less steep.

That being said, I still think the cost of pneumatics is pretty high. When we’re weighing them as an option, my mind goes to quite a few things that just generally make competing a bit more challenging:

  1. Increased inspection time. In a world where practice field (and practice match feeder) access depends on getting inspected, anything that makes inspection last longer is a downside.
  2. Increased complexity and potential failure modes. All of the various connections have the potential to leak air at some stage which can be a time-consuming diagnosis process and can make things like field connection delays extra stressful if you know that you haven’t solved that slow leak before taking the field. Knowing that every minute that you’re waiting for that last robot to connect to the field is decreased pneumatic pressure available for auton/the match is BRUTAL.
  3. More things to do for instant match replays after an arena fault. Tethering to recharge pneumatics is not that onerous of a process but its just one more layer of complexity when you could simply change batteries, reset any mechanisms and get the robot placed for the replay.
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While pneumatics might have been a very simple and clean way of accomplishing a “zero second climb”, this could also have been done with a motor driven, spring retracted system.

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there is one instance that 2451 used back in 2020 and 2021 that was one of the only way it makes sense to not abandon pneumatics. We used them to deploy independant gates to keep the balls from compacting too much. Teams are starting to move away from pneumatics which is fine but when the right application presents itself they can be really useful

Can confirm. We did that this year.
time stamp; 2:35, 5809 is in blue

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true

Sorry, you know my stance here, even as someone who spent ~15 years on team Pneumatics are Awesome.

I’d rather replace all pneumatics with high power servos/off the shelf linear actuators. It simplifies inspection, removes an entire class of risks (tanks going boom), and is one less thing that teams need to learn.

But if you force me to do it…


Let teams use up to 1 metal tank (the OG ones) filled using off board compressors up to 60PSI. It means it’s very viable for single shot deployments that are otherwise obscene to do under current pneumatics rules.

If you want to run 120PSI or multiple/larger tanks you need to fill using the onboard compressor.

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My bad!

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One of the major reasons that we’ve moved away from pneumatics is simply reliability. With big hits becoming more common, one unlucky frame incursion that vents your air takes you out of the match if pneumatics are part of your core gameplay mechanisms.

When reliability is arguably the most important thing in FRC, I don’t see us ever going back even if some of the “quality of life” proposals from above are implemented.

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There are certainly times that pneumatics are a great solution, but more often than not in FRC they’re used as a crutch where a more elegant solution exists using a motor.

Elaborate

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What if the use of pneumatics came with a +5lb weight allowance in the robot rules?

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I guess. I guess it just also defends what your going for. We’ve correctly deployed Pneumatics in the past to avoid complexity on certain things when we don’t need it. In 2015 our Wrist, Grasper, and Canburger systems were all pneumatically based. I don’t know that I’d say a single piece of it would be more elegant with a motor driven system instead. I don’t really even get what elegant means in this content.