Satellites may be all the rage this year, but people could soon be traveling to space in greater numbers. One team is out to ensure we can all have a proper drink while exploring the final frontier.
While space exploration offers makers the opportunity to create an amazing assortment of hardware to orbit the planet, Samuel Coniglio is more concerned with making sure the people who will be living there someday have a sense of whimsy and fun in their lives. Part of that concern is ensuring we can all have a proper drink while staring down at our home planet.
The Zero Gravity Cocktail Project has taken almost a decade to come to fruition–and is still being refined. Coniglio’s concept for a space cup first took root in 2006 during an assignment for the Space Tourism Society creating futuristic products. Along with his famous “snuggle tunnel” he produced a simple martini glass for space. The design was crude and included a straw, emulating the Capri-Sun style pouches used to keep fluids contained for astronauts.
Although he knew it was lacking, Coniglio didn’t let the idea drop. In 2009, the idea for a “drink bot” got Coniglio on a team building a robotic bartender. The team had to learn solenoids, valves, fluid dynamics, electronics, and Arduino programming. The maker community in the Bay Area stepped in to help. “If you hang out at enough events, you’ll learn something,” says Coniglio. “People will teach you.” He credits the participants at the RoboGames with patience in sharing their knowledge.
Once the COSMOBOT won a few awards, Coniglio and the team started thinking bigger; they wanted to build a drink bot for space. NASA Astronaut Don Pettit’s in-space coffee cup hack showed the need for better drinking experience in addition to a drink dispenser. The focus turned to creating a cup first, and a complimentary drink dispenser later. “Having a project really motivates you to learn new things,” mused Coniglio as we talked. “I researched fluid dynamics video on the Internet. Then I researched scientific papers on surface tension and capillary action.”
Sitting at a computer wasn’t enough to make the cup a reality. “There is a point where you have to quit thinking about it and start doing it,” Coniglio said with a grin. “I realized I had some amazing friends and just had to ask them to help.”
Much like The Avengers, the Zero Gravity Cocktail Project team brought together a variety of people to pool their talents for a greater good. Coniglio is the space tourism expert. Nick Donaldson is a toy designer. Brent Heyning creates special effects and props for Hollywood. Russell Davis was Bartender of the Year in 2012. “Everyone brings something unique to the project,” explained Coniglio. They have spent the better part of a year discussing and developing prototypes, directly studying fluid dynamics on sample surfaces, and soliciting input from astronauts and other experts on weightlessness. [Full disclosure: I've advised the team based on my parabolic flight experience.]
The team experimented with various designs that allow fluid to flow in from the bottom (presumably from a future COSMOBOT) and through narrow channels around the interior of the cup to a sipping spot along the rim. Samuel says the team has carefully considered how someone will hold the glass, set it “down” in a weightless bar, and get a refill. “We know that the aesthetic and experience of the cup adds to the cocktail,” said Coniglio. “People need to be able to smell, see, and enjoy the experience.”
The result of their hard work will be unveiled this week at the 2014 Yuri’s Night celebration at the California Science Center. Their plan is to create several prototypes to test on parabolic aircraft and suborbital flights. Coniglio’s dream? “We’d love to have Richard Branson toast to the first successful Virgin Galactic flight with a cocktail glass made specifically for space.”
Is the cocktail glass the end of the road for the team? “No way!” says Coniglio. The team is already filing patents and incorporating as a company to create more space-ready equipment. “We’re working to bridge the gap between the aerospace industry and everybody else,” explains Coniglio. “Design for space, market for Earth.” He added with a sly grin “We’re eager to find a sponsor to get us to space. We’ve got the glass, now we need the cocktail!”