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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3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on July 19, 2009 at 8:10am

What do you mean by "ports"? Analog pins? Digital pins? Serial?

You can attach a small video camera, but don't expect the onboard ATmega to be able to do image processing. You'd want to transmit the image to ground and process there.
Comment by Bill Miller on July 20, 2009 at 1:19pm
Here's an interesting application for someone. Indoor trade shows. With a little more buoyancy and an LED display, you could have it auto navigate around the whole show while displaying Ads. Could even have a bunch of them doing a circuit and rent space on them. If you have the LED displays controlled remotely, you could even have them as a public addressing system.

Possibly a simpler idea. Have a laser bounce images off the nice white covering with the actual content. Use a Wii type of controller to "aim" the projector.
Comment by Kai on July 20, 2009 at 11:50pm
Hi Chris,
I mean the digital and analog input / output pins/ports of the microcontroller. What I learned is that the arduino has 18 digital I/Os und 5 analog ones. I wonder how much of these are still free to use on the blimpduino?

And did anyone test how much extra weight could be liftet withe "balloon" supplied?
Comment by Joshua Nussbaum on July 22, 2009 at 10:50pm
I'm using the lightmax 500 battery, so I soldered a 2 pin header instead of the supplied connector. Plugged in the female cable backwards. DOH! dumb mistake... C1 blew up in flames,

Consider adding a diode between the power source in a future revision for dumbasses like myself :)
Comment by Michael VanLandingham on July 26, 2009 at 5:30pm
Almost done w/ our BlimpDuino .. it's been an educational experience for an RC newbie. I'm wondering about the white, thin foam board (cut with a pop-apart crenelation pattern). It's roughly triangular shaped, there are 4 pieces when separated-- they were sandwiching the mylar envelope in the package. Is that supposed to be a gondola or what? Seems like it's for something, but what? I don't see mention of it anywhere in the instructions.

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on July 26, 2009 at 5:58pm
Those foam pieces are fins. You can put them on the envelope if you want, partly for looks and partly for directional stability. I never bother.

Comment by Gary Mortimer on August 8, 2009 at 3:51am
Some new airframes??
Comment by Raargh on August 26, 2009 at 12:25pm
Hi, newbie here. I am a pilot - single engine land and ultralights, also a network engineer by trade. However, I have zero RC experience and limited funds. Want to buy the Blimpduino, but first need to know what it will cost for the most basic RC controller, so that I'm not just running it in autonomous mode. Any recommendations greatly appreciated. Thanks!

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on August 26, 2009 at 12:47pm
We'll be offering a version with battery, charger and RC equipment for about $150 in a week or so.
Comment by Raargh on August 27, 2009 at 4:01pm
Wow! Cool. Thanks for the quick reply, Chris. I presume (from the photo), if I want RC (and do not want to wait for the RC kit) I will need to purchase the Futaba R156F receiver, which I see priced at TowerHobbies for $60.00. Will I also need the "short crystal" ? I was also considering buying the "Futaba 6EXP 6-Channel FM R156F/No Servos 72MHz" for $129.00 from Tower Hobbies. What is your opinion on that controller? Will it grow with me as I acquire skills, or is it too basic? Thanks, Steve


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