Weather balloon payload guides itself home (almost)

From Hackaday:

The biggest issue with sending expensive electronics into near space is trying to recover them. [Lhiggs] set out to solve this issue with his Senior project for a Mechanical Engineering degree. He figured that a payload dropped from 100,000 feet should be able to glide its way back to some predefined coordinates. Here you can see one of the tests, where the payload is guiding its descent using a parafoil.

Directional control is possible with a parafoil simply by shifting weight between the two supporting ropes. In this case [Lhiggs] designed the payload to hang from a pair of servo-motor-actuated arms. Since the payload already carries altitude and position hardware (such as a GPS, electronic compass, and altimeter) it’s just a matter of waiting for the target height before separating from the weather balloon, then using the servos to navigate to the landing zone.

Unfortunately the project was never fully completed. But you can see that he got pretty far. There is test footage embedded after the break showing the device being dropped from a plane.

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Comment by Larry Grater on November 9, 2012 at 4:31pm
There are several blogs and forum posts on this site dedicated to this topic. I'll likely be ready to fly again in a month. I got pretty far for a 1st attempt but had 4-5 issues, most of which are explained in the post flight charts. The end result was loss of attitude reference. Links to the data are posted as is the video.
Comment by jesse ransom on January 7, 2013 at 5:38am

 This was supposed to be a completely autonomous glide back but johnny law wont let me does anyone have any idea to get around this? Its a project i have been working on for years and i have way to much stuff to just give up. And as far as air densities in the upper atmosphere and the wing structures it will work in your favor to get the package out of the cold and wind and into the troposphere fast where it can regain control of itself. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xdQHVBooerM

Comment by Michael Banks on March 30, 2014 at 3:07pm
The cargo was spinning way to fast for the chute to deploy & not be effected by twisted lines. If those lines were not twisted it would have had a much better chance of landing properly... These days one could make use of a sail servo to control the lines.
Comment by Michael Banks on March 30, 2014 at 3:10pm
The main thing during free fall is to stop the spinning & tumbling. Get that sorted & the deployment should be simple... I' amazed no drought chute was deployed to help stabilise the payload.
Comment by Michael Banks on March 30, 2014 at 3:11pm
Haha drought chute.. I meant to say drogue chute. ;)

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