A Beacon Suitable for Tracking Santa’s sleigh?

High-altitude ballooning is becoming a popular activity for many universities, schools and hacker spaces. The balloons, which can climb up to 40 km in the stratosphere, usually have recovery parachutes to help get the payload, with its precious data, back to solid ground safely. But when you live in areas where the balloon is likely to be flying over the sea most of the time, recovery of the payload becomes tricky business. [Paul Clark] and his team from Durham University’s Centre for Advanced Instrumentation are working on building a small, autonomous glider – essentially a flying hard drive – to navigate from 30 km up in the stratosphere to a drop zone somewhere near a major road. An important element of such a system is the locator beacon to help find it. They have now shared their design for an “Iridium 9603 Beacon” — a small Arduino-compatible unit which can transmit its location and other data from anywhere via the Iridium satellite network.

The beacon uses the Short Burst Data service which sends email to a designated mail box with its date, time, location, altitude, speed, heading, temperature, pressure and battery voltage. To do all of this, it incorporates a SAMD21G18 M0 processor; FGPMMOPA6H GPS module; MPL3115A2 altitude sensor; Iridium 9603 Short Burst Data module + antenna and an LTC3225 supercapacitor charger. Including the batteries and antenna, the whole thing weighs in at 72.6 g, making it perfectly suited for high altitude ballooning. The whole package is powered by three ‘AAA’ Energizer Ultimate Lithium batteries which ought to be able to withstand the -56° C encountered during the flight. The supercapacitors are required to provide the high current needed when the beacon transmits data.

The team have tested individual components up to 35 km on a balloon flight from NASA’s Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility and the first production unit will be flown on a much smaller balloon, launched from the UK around Christmas. The GitHub repository contains detailed information about the project along with the EagleCAD hardware files and the Arduino code. Now, if only Santa carried this on his Sleigh, it would be easy for NORAD to track his progress in real time.

It’s Time to Roll Your Own Smartwatch

Giant wristwatches are so hot right now. This is a good thing, because it means they’re available at many price points. Aim just low enough on the scale and you can have a pre-constructed chassis for building your own smartwatch. That’s exactly what [benhur] did, combining a GY-87 10-DOF module, an I²C OLED display, and an Arduino Pro Mini.

The watch uses one button to cycle through its different modes. Date and time are up first, naturally. The next screen shows the current temperature, altitude, and barometric pressure. Compass mode is after that, and then a readout showing your step count and kilocalories burned.

In previous iterations, the watch communicated over Bluetooth to Windows Phone, but it drew too much power. With each new hardware rev, [benhur] made significant strides in battery life, going from one hour to fourteen to a full twenty-fours.

Take the full tour of [benhur]’s smartwatch after the break. He’s open to ideas for the next generation, so share your insight with him in the comments. We’d like to see some kind of feedback system that tells us when we’ve been pounding away at the Model M for too long.  Continue reading “It’s Time to Roll Your Own Smartwatch”

The Ultimate Tiny Altimeter

altimeter

While traditionally a project geared more toward the model rocket crowd, a lot of people are flying quadcopters these days, and knowing the altitude your RC aircraft reached is a nice thing to know. [Will] came up with a very nice, very small, and very lightweight altimeter that’s perfect for strapping to microquads, their bigger brothers, and of course model rockets. As a nice bonus, it also looks really cool with an exceedingly retro HP bubble display.

The components used in this tiny altimeter include a MEMS altitude and pressure sensor, HP bubble display featuring four seven-segment LEDs, an Arduino Pro Mini, and a tiny 40 mAh LiPo capable of powering the whole contraption for hours.

In the video below, [Will] shows off the functions of his altimeter, sending it aloft on a quadcopter to about 100 ft. There are settings for displaying the minimum, maximum, and delta altitudes, all accessed with a single button.

While it’s not the most feature packed altimeter out there, it’s still much better than commercial offerings available for the model rocket crowd.

Continue reading “The Ultimate Tiny Altimeter”