BlimpDuino is a very low cost open source autonomous blimp. It consists of an Arduino-based blimp controller board with on-board infrared and ultrasonic sensors and an interface for an optional RC mode, a simple gondola with two vectoring (tilting) differential thrusters, and ground-based infrared beacon.

It is available as a commercial kit from the Maker Shed or the DIY Drones store for $89.

[UPDATE: The current Blimpduino kit has been discontinued. Stay tuned for a new design in 2012]

  • What else you'll need
  • Instructions for making the kit are here.
  • Instructions for loading the code are here
  • Correct LED/servo/motor behavior modes are here
  • Instructions for using Blimpduino are here
  • The parts list is here
  • The discussion forum for teams using Blimpduino in the FIRST Robotics aerial robotics demonstration is here
  • If you want to build your own board from scratch, the necessary files and component lists are here
  • If you want to print out a cool DIY Drones sticker like the blimp above has, here's a pdf.


The Blimpduino board is the core of the kit. Features:

* 17 grams, with ultrasonic and IR sensors.
* Controls two motors and one vectoring servo.
* Built-in RC compatibility (can read two RC channels--throttle and steering)
* Designed for a 7.4v LiPo battery; has an automatic power cut-off at low voltage to protect the battery.

Here's the board with the ultrasonic sensor removed, so you can see the Atmega168 processor underneath it:

Here is a video of BlimpDuino in flight, using a breadboard version of the controller board:

At the moment, we're using Pololu IR beacons as the ground beacon, but we'll eventually release our own, open source, versions of them, too.

Here's the board on the gondola with vectoring thrusters and the optional RC receiver:

The commercial kit consists of the following:

--BlimpDuino board, with all SMD parts already soldered on
--Other through-hole components, to be soldered by user (easy)
--A very simple laser-cut plastic platform for the board, battery, optional RC receiver, and motor components
--A servo, gears and motor shaft for the vectoring (thrust tilting) function
--Two motors and props
--One IR ground beacon
--52" mylar envelope

The following is a chronological list of posts describing the development of the project. This is mostly for those who want to follow along and learn about Arduino-based robotics. If you're interested in autonomous blimp development and want to know more about BlimpDuino features, they will give you some insight into the evolution of this project.

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Comment by bGatti on September 13, 2008 at 6:38pm
Is there any localization (ie small scale gps equivelent) for BlimpDuino?

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on September 13, 2008 at 9:14pm
Yes, in the next version we'll be doing multiple ground beacons so it can navigate along them as waypoints. But the current version only recognizes one beacon, so it can only navigate around that (loops, figure eights, etc).

We have a Evolution Robotics Northstar 2 system that we're evaluating for full position awareness, but it's not really designed for gym-sized rooms so we're not sure if it will work.

FWIW, in many rooms you can get a GPS lock indoors with the latest SiRFIII chipsets, so it may be possible to use actual GPS indoors under some conditions.
Comment by bGatti on September 15, 2008 at 11:39am
If you include a microphone in multiple beacons - capable of hearing the sonic system,
Then you could:
1. Assign each blimp to a timeslot for pinging.
2. On each ping - take a time reading from each beacon, use the results to triangulate location.

How about a scanning IR transmitter on a servo. This is easy.
Create a narrow IR transmitter window, turn the transmitter on a servo, transmit the vector.
Either of those should work with the current blimpduino design.

Also, I'm curious, is Blimpduino fullduplex?
I only see ir receivers.

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on September 15, 2008 at 2:17pm
Blimpduino is not full duplex. Our original one, which used the Pololu IR transceivers, was full duplex, but we didn't see any real advantage in that and wanted to save money and weight.

We'll probably do multiple sensors with a centrally coordinated Arduino beacon sequencer on the ground (one Arduino pulses multiple beacons in order) and use a trigger pulse to sync the ground and air clocks. No full duplex required.
Comment by 24H-Hobby on September 23, 2008 at 8:53am
Very interesting !
Comment by Yorel on September 29, 2008 at 12:01pm
Could it maintain position at a specific altitude above a moving target?

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on September 29, 2008 at 2:19pm
Well, sure, if you put the ground beacon on a slow-moving toy train, I suppose the blimp would follow it around. But remember that this is indoors only, and really only for altitudes of less than 2-3 meters.
Comment by Andy B on January 2, 2009 at 10:23pm
Cool Concept! Did you guys think about incorporating LEDS for text on the side of the blimp...Like a floating billboard....I have no idea what it would require, I saw this post and had visions of mini blimps floating around at the next street festival passing along funny messages.

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on January 2, 2009 at 10:29pm
@Andy. It would be pretty easy to add LEDs, but these can't be used outdoors or anywhere where there's any wind. You'd need blimps at least 4x their size (and 10-20x their price) for outdoors
Comment by Peter Clay on January 7, 2009 at 5:17pm
Chris, we are very interested in your progress with blimps and would love to collaborate - keep up the great work!


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