Drew Ripley is a full-time balloon twister. From birthday parties to major art projects, he lives to entertain crowds through the fine art of folding air. When Airigami’s Larry Moss and Kelly Cheatle asked him to help on Balloon Manor, a large-scale ephemeral balloon installation, he teamed up with a crew of 60 to bring life back into an old department store in Rochester, New York.
The Amazing Air-Filled Under-Sea Adventure used more than 40,000 balloons to fill the building’s five-story atrium. For four days, it was a frenzy of activity, as artists worked from blueprints, air compressors ran nonstop, and rigging was installed overhead to support it all.
Inflating that many balloons requires machinery to quickly pump the correct amount of air. Dissatisfied with the reliability and precision of commercial balloon pumps, Ripley and Moss built the Inflatinator, a programmable machine that was the only automated equipment used in the 2015 Balloon Manor.
They made their first prototype with a breadboard, an Arduino, and some solenoids packed into a plastic container, and then redesigned it into a safe and robust machine with the help of local engineer Paul Walker. The team continues to tinker with the functionality to increase productivity for future balloon builds.
“After working 16 hours straight I go home happy, exhausted, but still thrilled,” says Ripley. “Everywhere I go, I get to give people that moment of whimsy and being free and recognizing that life is awesome, and what could be better than that?”