• Gabriella Garcia

Soft Robotics week 2: Shame of Cones

One of my earliest New York event memories was my family's annual outing to watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day balloons being inflated the night before the parade. It felt like a secret, watching the shapeless carcasses develop into the beloved icons upon whose back the beginning of Christmas season floated into the American living room the next morning. Balloons are are markedly celebratory subsection of inflatables, and I hung onto this notion for my own explorations this week: how do I use the intentionality of "balloon" as part of my design process, and make something that acknowledges the attention called to it for its form?

First attempt: Shame of Cones

I also wanted to explore the inflatable as a protective barrier, looking to space rover landing airbags for inspiration. With these two ideas in mind, I started formulating an Elizabethan collar cone (or e-cone) best known as a dog cone or "cone of shame" for injured pets. I wanted to make something similar out of the provided mylar, knowing that the size and shine would inherently call attention but the form and application could indicate need for a measured approach/interaction from outsiders.

I have sewing experience so thought I'd have a handle of designing for 3-d with flat patterns. I was hoping to start with a rotund shape that I could tailor down into correct form with the tacking iron, but inflation was a way more complicated variable than I had imagined. I realized in process that I was depending on measurements "doubling" as they do with clothing patterns to be filled with bodies.. filling with air however makes each "doubled' mylar sheet the equivalent of a single panel of fabric, therefore shorting my entire attempt by 50%. I ended up making more of a giant metallic tick, Shame of Cones indeed..

The tacking iron in the materials drawer was broken, which also led to a lot of unnecessary trouble as the bent rod would unintentionally melt pieces of the mylar as I was trying to tack the pattern outline. I should have stopped the first time I recognized this happening, but convinced myself I could be careful enough to keep it from happening over... and over...

It's pretty cute though, even if it wasn't what I intended.

Attempt 2: Don't look at me

Learning from my first attempt, I decided to pattern with more negative space and thinking more with an architectural drafting mindset in which building components are 3-dimensional, rather than costume/fashion drafting in which the components are flat. I don't have the right words so that feels pretty vague.. sorry. I wanted to continue with the "conspicuous camo" idea, with the planned negative space giving me room to further construct the balloon's behavior even after it was inflated. I prototyped a sort of protective "cage" headpiece with modes determined by inflation level. There are two "arms" that protrude laterally which lay like antennae when slightly deflated, and then raise to cover the sides of the face when inflated fully. If I developed it with physical computation, I would incorporate a valve and fan which could regulate the air pressure, and some sort of sensor (detecting what I'm not sure) that would trigger inflation or deflation based on a tbd input.