Trackuino – an Open Source Arduino APRS Tracker

trackuino board

Trackuino is a new open source (GPLv2 license) Arduino APRS tracker designed by [Javier Martin]. If you are unfamiliar: APRS (Automatic Packet Reporting System) is an amateur radio method used to relay small packets of position-tracking data to an online database for easy access and mapping. In this case, GPS telemetry data is used to track latitude, longitude, altitude, course, speed, and time measurements in near real-time via

Although this reminds us of the WhereAVR that we covered previously, the Trackuino includes an onboard radio so no external handheld unit is necessary. Since the Trackuino was designed primarily for high-altitude balloon tracking, a number of useful related features are also included: dual temperature sensors, support for a humidity sensor, and a remote “cut-down” trigger really make this a complete package.

Initially there was some concern that the 300mW radio used would not be powerful enough to reach the ground-based receivers from peak altitudes. This was clearly not an issue however, as the signal was heard from nearly 600Km away during the maiden voyage. If this still doesn’t sound like enough power, a 500mW radio is also supported.

Make sure to check out [Javier]’s blog for some amazing high-altitude photos and everything needed to get your own Trackuino up and running in no time!

Thanks [Brad]!

Target hunting UAV armed with fireworks

Don’t just build a UAV, use it to blow things up. In this case a tri-copter seeks out colored balloons and pops them using low-grade fireworks. We’ve seen this type of flying armament before, but not in a ‘copter form factor. It looks like the targeting and firing is done by an operator, and is not an automated system despite what the text overlays on the video after the break says. The lack of autonomous firing capability makes this delightful, rather than scary. Don’t miss the build log for the tri-copter itself. How do you think this one stacks up to the last 3-bladed build?

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Robot gripper uses coffee to pick up anything

Picking up a raw egg is not something we’d think a robot gripper would be good at. But this model uses a bulbous tip instead of claw, which makes crushing the object less of a concern.

That tip is kind of like a balloon. It is stretched full with coffee grounds but air can also be pumped in and sucked out. When it comes time to grip an object, a bit of air is pumped in and the bulb is pressed down on its target. Once in place all of the air is sucked out, locking the coffee grounds around the object. Take a look after the break to see just how many things can be gripped with this technique.

Now the real question, can it bring me a beer?

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A ride into space, but nothing fancy

[Luke Geissbuhler] wanted to send something into space, a fun project his kids could get in on too. Instead of sending up a suite of electronic components they went with consumer electronics. The key element, an HD camera to record the event, is protected by a styrofoam shell and soft foam padding. To help ensure that the device was recovered an iPhone also made the trip, running a GPS tracking program that continuously updated the package’s location. To combat the ill-effects of severe cold some chemical hand warming packs also joined the flight.

As you can see after the break, it was a success. The camera documented an incredible ride, with a balloon rupture at 19 miles above the earth (that must be a calculated height as there’s no altimeter in the package). The pod came down gently thanks to a parachute and was recovered just 30 miles from where it launched.

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Arduino balloon tracking

The Ferret is a high-altitude balloon tracking hardware package. Created by [Adam Greig] and [Jon Sowman], it uses an Arduino to gather NMEA data from a GPS unit, format the data into a string, and transmit that string on narrow-band FM. The project, built in one afternoon, is a tribute to the prototyping simplicity the Arduino provides.

The unit was powered by four AA batteries, using the Arduino’s on board voltage regulator. This provided a bit of heat which helps in the frigid reaches of the upper atmosphere. The bundle above was put in a project box and attached to the outside of the balloon’s payload, then covered with foam for warmth and moisture resistance. This tracking is a lot less complicated than some of the photography setups we’ve seen for balloons. It’s also more versatile because it broadcasts the GPS data so that many people can track it, rather than just logging its location.

Happy birthday Internet, here’s $40,000


Darpa has another contest coming up. You may remember some past Darpa competitions, like the 2007 Urban Challenge. Where hackers, engineers, and scientists alike came together to build autonomous vehicles. The game this year is to celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Internet.

The rules are simple enough, find a bunch of red balloons and mark their latitude and longitude. The hard part? There is only 10 balloons – spread across America. It will take an extreme amount of social network engineering, but it all pays off with first place receiving $40,000.

High altitude balloons

We received quite a bit of tips, after posting about the 150$ high altitude balloon project, from communities and teams who had done similar tasks. There is more to these projects than simply filling a balloon and attaching a camera, so in order to allow everyone their 7 seconds of well deserved fame, we’ve compiled a quick list of similar high altitude balloons. Catch it after the break.
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