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 Ricardo Colas on September 23, 2009 at 3:10pm
Is wireless communication of any kind is possible with the provided board that comes with the kit?
Feel free to correct me if I'm not asking this question right.
Comment by Ty Tower on October 18, 2009 at 1:54pm
Ive been looking for a board / software page for the beacon . Is there one anywhere?
Comment by Vince Wilczynski on January 6, 2010 at 5:52pm
I convinced a friend to jump into BlimpDuino for his engineering manufacturing class.

He is looking for a list of recommended equipment to go from "nothing" to "three flying systems" (with a minimum number of purchase orders). They will be controlling in autonomous and RC mode.

The list so far is detailed below based on Chris' recs, and I am looking for additional recs for some "nice to have" spare parts. Feel free to drop in some suggestions!

List to date:
1 Blimpduino kit - quantity 3
2 Official Ardupilot FTDI Cable - quantity 3
3 RC unit - quantity 3
4 LiPo Battery - quantity 6
5 battery charger - quantity 3

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on January 6, 2010 at 5:59pm
Hi Vince! For starters, they can share one FTDI cable between them. They might also want to get a proper tank of helium from a welding supply shop, rather than stacks of party balloon kits from Target. Finally, they could do some experiments with multiple beacons.
Comment by Vince Wilczynski on January 6, 2010 at 6:58pm
Thanks Chris!
FIRST Kick Off is this weekend, so a new project kicks in!
Comment by Patrick Knowles on January 7, 2010 at 8:55am
Thanks Chris as well. I am the friend Vince describes above looking to jump into the 'world of blimps' with my community college engineering classes. As near as I can tell, the blimp kit is ordered from www.makershed.com ? Is there a single source of supply for the other recommended components discussed above? I'm dealing with the a state procurement system, so the fewer procurement requests I make, the better!
Comment by Neal McBurnett on January 8, 2010 at 9:56pm
The instructions don't specify how to connect the motors - can you update them, and tell us here? I'm trying to debug autonomous mode with no RC. I have my motors connected so the "-" wire connects by the "ML" (or "MR") label on the board, but have no idea if that is right for either one. And the "MR" plug connects to the motor on the left in flying attitude - which seems wrong, but that is how the pictures have it.

I'd also love to see updated software that would let us test the system via the serial interface, if we don't have the optional RC control.

How big is the executable, and how much space for code remains available?

I suggest noting that 2 of the lego blocks have round inside holes, and the other 2 have an "x" inside so they stay fixed on the beams if you use them there by mistake. I didn't notice for a while and was wondering how the beams were supposed to rotate.

Do we need to seal the helium port? Is there a way to seal it and then add more helium later?

Finally, my kit only had 31" of wire, so my motor wires couldn't be 8" long. And even that would not allow for enough slack to wrap around the beams.

Thanks!

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on January 8, 2010 at 10:13pm
Neal, good advice on the documentation. As for no RC mode, are you saying you're getting no motor action at all in RC mode? If so, something's wired wrong. Can you upload a picture of your setup?
Comment by Neal McBurnett on January 8, 2010 at 10:21pm
I don't have an RC controller so I can't test that way. When I run in autonomous mode, the motors are flailing away but it doesn't go to the beacon, and I don't know if the motors are connected properly because the directions just say to test it in RC mode and switch the connectors around if it doesn't work right. So which motor is supposed to be connected to which jack, and which way are the + and - supposed to go? It isn't easy to get a picture now, but I described how they are connected. Thanks for the quick response!

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on January 8, 2010 at 11:28pm
Hi Neal,

Well, it's much easier to set it up with RC gear, but I'll try to walk you through it without that. The motor labels are correct. Remember that the board is facing downward when it's taped to the bottom of the blimp.

The best way to test it, with the ultasonic sensor plugged in, is to use the beacon. Plug the battery into Blimpduino and plug a battery into the beacon, too. Holding the Blimpduino board at shoulder height, with the ultrasonic sensor pointing down at a hard floor, power it on and wait until the vectoring servo goes up and down.

Now, while holding it there and holding the beacon with the other hand, bring it to one side of the board and the other. The LEDs under the IR sensors should light up on the side the beacon is on. When that happens, the motor on the *opposite* side should power up. It should be blowing backwards.

If you lower or raise the board or get in the way of the ultrasonic sensor, you may find both motors coming on. That should stop once it thinks it's at the starting altitude again.

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