You Need a Self-Righting Thrust-Vector Balloon Copter

Cornell University’s microcontroller class looks like a tremendous amount of fun. Not only do the students learn the nitty-gritty details of microcontroller programming, but the course culminates in a cool project. [Brian Ritchken] and [Jim Liu] made a thrust-vector controlled balloon blimp. They call this working?!?!

Three balloons provide just enough lift so that the blimp can climb or descend on motor power. Since the machine is symmetric, there’s no intrinsic idea of “forward” or “backward”. Instead, a ring of eight LEDs around the edge let you know which way the blimp thinks it’s pointing. Two controls on the remote rotate the pointing direction clockwise and counter-clockwise. The blimp does the math to figure out which motors to run faster or slower when you tell it to go forward or back.

The platform is stabilized by a feedback loop with an accelerometer on board, and seems capable of handling a fairly asymmetric weight distribution, as evidenced by their ballast dangling off the side — a climbing bag filled with ketchup packets that presumably weren’t just lifted from the dining halls.

It looks like [Brian] and [Jim] had a ton of fun building and flying this contraption. We’d love to see a distance-to-the-floor sensor added so that they could command it to hover at a given height, but that adds an extra level of complexity. They got this done in time and under budget, so kudos to them both. And in a world full of over-qualified quadcopters, it’s nice to see the humble blimp getting its time in the sun.

Yep, you heard right… this is yet another final project for a University course. Yesterday we saw a spinning POV globe, and the day before a voice-activated eye test. We want to see your final project too so please send in a link!

15 thoughts on “You Need a Self-Righting Thrust-Vector Balloon Copter

  1. I don’t need a self-righting thrust-vector balloon copter but I could really use a device that would prevent my roommate from watching gay porn late at night when I’m (pretending to be) asleep.

    1. Yah that is a very stupid rule I wonder if it’s even legal and would a charge stand in court as they by passed the normal law making process and pretty much ignored everyone’s input on it.
      Plus who enforces it?

      1. Surely a banner saying “free Tibet” would be cheaper and lighter. 1st amendment.

        Don’t worry, if they try to arrest you, just make sure you live inside a hedge maze that takes more than a day to navigate. Then the 3rd amendment prohibits them from entering.

        If amendments were worth anything, the 6th and 7th would prevent the 3 year criminal trials and million dollar bail fees which are commonplace.

  2. Wow going to be hell to avoid incoming fire with this control method. Being able to move in any vector is OK, but the pilot should not need to wait for input from a visual display. Hope you will live until when the vehicle says you can move in the direction you need to go. A problem that can’t be resolved, but at best a proof of concept. prototype. Blimp would be a good unassuming utilitarian bet the job done UAV design, but probably not stealthy enough for many interests.. Not that I’m saying the quad copters are stealthy.

  3. I’ve been wanting to build something similar – Hydrogen for lift, and a Hydrogen fuel cell if possible. I was also wondering about how the 250g rule would treat something with ‘negative weight’

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