Pneumatic Ball-Levitating ‘Bot Preps Produce, Wins at Beer Pong

Using powerful air jets and complex algorithms, "robo-air" system makes objects appear to defy gravity.

Using an air jet to make a ball appear to levitate is an old physics lab trick; the air rushing around the ball traps it in a low-pressure pocket. But guiding “floating” balls through an obstacle course of hoops, making asymmetrical objects like apples and water bottles float as carefree as perfect spheres, or launching balls across a room with precision accuracy? That’s impressive.

A pair of grad students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have done exactly that, using a computer to control a gimbaled air-jet system with two degrees of motion to not only “levitate” two different-sized balls at once, but also to make them follow difficult trajectories through obstacles, and even land in a small bucket of water all the way across the room.

Stereo vision cameras keep tabs on the objects, feeding a control algorithm data that allows the jet to keep objects at equilibrium and under control. Oh, and it peels onions. Don’t believe us? Check out the video below. It makes your Slap Chop look pretty simple by comparison.

IEEE Spectrum