Remotely Controlling a Not-So-Miniature Hot Air Balloon

Calling [Matt Barr]’s remote controlled hot air balloon a miniature is a bit misleading. Sure, it’s small compared with the balloons that ply cold morning skies with paying passengers and a bottle of champagne for the landing. Having been in on a few of those landings, we can attest to the size of the real thing. They’re impressively big when you’re up close to them.

While [Matt]’s balloon is certainly smaller, it’s not something you’d just whip together in an afternoon. Most of [Matt]’s build log concentrates mainly on the gondola and its goodies — the twin one-pound camp stove-style propane tanks, their associated plumbing, and the burner, a re-tasked propane weed torch from Harbor Freight. Remote control is minimal; just as in a full-size balloon, all the pilot can really do is turn the burner on or off. [Matt]’s approach is a high-torque RC servo to control the burner valve, which is driven by an Arduino talking to the ground over a 2.4-GHz RF link. The balloon is big enough to lift 30 pounds and appears to be at least 12 feet tall; we’d think such a craft would run afoul of some civil aviation rules, so perhaps it’s best that the test flight below was a tethered one.

Sadly, no instructions are included for making the envelope, which would be a great excuse for anyone to learn a little about sewing. And knowing how to roll your own hot air balloon might come in handy someday.

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Look, it’s a helicopter! it’s a plane! it’s a rolling robot!

The helicopter-plane-ball-bot sounds like a creation [Homer Simpson] would come up with, but it’s a fairly accurate description of what this machine can do. It was developed by researches at Japan’s ministry of defense. The single propeller lets it operate much like a helicopter. But when it needs to get somewhere quick, the body repositions itself with the propeller at the front, while those black panels function as wings. Finally, the spherical body lets it travel along surfaces, vertical or horizontal. It can even roll along the ground.

After the break you can see a flight demo video from the 2011 Digital Contents Expo. It makes us wonder about the control interface. Which part of this is the front side, and how does it know which direction the operator intends to steer it? Perhaps there is feedback on the cardinal orientation of the control unit? We don’t have the answers to these queries, but we think there’s something very Sci-Fi about it. It brings to mind the Dog Pod aerostatic defensive grid from Neal Stephenson’s novel The Diamond Age.

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