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 Neal McBurnett on January 8, 2010 at 11:53pm
Ahh yes - upside down puts ML on the Left side :) Describing the "ML" and "MR" labels in the directions and reminding us of the upside-down bit might help some others also....

But I still don't know which way each plug should go in the socket - where should the "+" pin for each motor be wired to?

Last time I tried noting which leds came on, it jumped around a lot. Do hot things in the room (like laptops) confuse the IR system, or is it looking for a specific pattern from the beacon?

Is it possible to program it to take rc-like commands (for testing with a usb cable, or xbee flying) from the serial monitor, or is it only able to output status (half duplex)?

Thanks again,

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on January 9, 2010 at 12:05am
If the props aren't blowing backwards (away from the motors), reverse the connector.

Yes, you can have lots of IR interference in a room. Sunlight, fluorescent lights, etc. But it should still be pretty clear that it's responding to the beacon.

I suppose you could write code that would read the serial port from the FTDI. It's been a while since I was in the code, but I don't think we're using the Rx line for anything else.
Comment by Hugo Meiland on March 21, 2010 at 12:17pm
Hi Chris and others,

Got my blimpduino working today and already had loads of fun with it!!
I justed wanted to let you know I made a tiny change in the code to be able to use a synthesizing receiver, since this receiver takes a little while to start up, it wasn't detected by the board in time. A small delay in the RC_detector() fixed this....

byte RC_detector(void)
{
float average_ch1=0;
delay(1000); //Wait for receiver to settle...
....
}

thanks for the effort!

Hugo

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on March 21, 2010 at 12:39pm
Hi Hugo,

Thanks for the note. I'd actually added such a delay a few weeks ago. I put it in the main loop:
delay(1000); // wait one second
Serial.println("Checking RC connection...");

Were using some code that you'd downloaded earlier?
Comment by Hugo Meiland on March 21, 2010 at 12:55pm
No, same code, just found your line in the code.... so it might be that a 1sec wait is not enough for this receiver (Corona RP6D1); unfortunately no start-up time listed in the manual....

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on March 21, 2010 at 1:04pm
Okay, thanks for the feedback. I've incorporated your change in the code on the site.
Comment by David Schack on July 21, 2010 at 7:38am
I am thinking about ordering an lcd for my Blimpduino (which should arrive today), but I need to know whether it has enough pins to drive one. As I'm sure you know it takes 6 pins to drive a standard character lcd. Does the Blimpduino board have 6 pins (digital, or analog, which if i understand correctly can also be used as digital pins) that are currently unused? If not I guess I will have to order a serial lcd if I want one. Thanks

3D Robotics
Comment by Chris Anderson on July 21, 2010 at 7:41am
David, if you're using all the regular sensors there are not 6 free pins. I'd suggest serial instead, which is free.
Comment by David Schack on July 21, 2010 at 10:07am
Thanks, I will probably pick one of these http://www.robotshop.com/sfe-serial-enabled-16x2-lcd-white-on-black...) up with my next order.Good work on the blimpduino, that looks like an great price for everything that comes in the kit.
P.S. FedEx just showed up with my blimp while I was typing this message :)
Comment by David Schack on July 21, 2010 at 6:02pm
Well, my kit (ordered from Maker Shed) didn't contain the motor driver IC, so I will have to wait for them to ship me the chip before I can finish my blimp, but I did write a python program to control the blimpduino through a serial connection. Here it is http://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B2YlF2kPfadHZDQ2YTAwMDAtNGQ5Zi00ZTA... as well as the modified arduino code here http://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B2YlF2kPfadHMmJjMDQ5ODUtNjc5Ny00NjU.... I know this code isn't very elegant, but it works as far as I can tell without owning the proper motor driver IC. I am hoping in the future to add a wireless module of some sort so I can control it from my pc wirelessly, as well as recieve the serial communications from the blimpduino. I am considering these http://www.robotshop.com/seeedstudio-433mhz-low-cost-transmitter-re... for thier low weight and good price. Any input is welcome. Thanks

EDIT: I will write up some documentation if there is enough interest, but it is pretty simple and self explanatory so I don't think it will be a problem.

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