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!

Collective Pitch Thrust Vectoring on a RC Plane

The RC plane shown above is hovering in that position. And that’s about the least impressive thing it can do. This is the power of Collective Pitch Thrust Vectoring… on a plane.

So what exactly is Collective Pitch Thrust Vectoring anyway? Put simply, it’s like strapping a helicopter rotor to the front of a plane. We think the basic mechanism behind this is called a Swashplate (as found on a helicopter rotor), which allows for thrust vectoring, meaning the propeller blades can actually change their pitch cyclically, while still spinning at high speeds! This is what allows helicopters to do crazy tricks like barrel rolls.

A normal RC plane can only increase or decrease thrust with the speed of the engine. But with this, the thrust can be changed cyclically as the blades spin allowing for thrust vectoring (advanced steering). Couple that with some huge control surfaces and wing stabilizers and that means some seriously crazy aerodynamic feats.

Watch the video after the break, it’s amazing.

Continue reading “Collective Pitch Thrust Vectoring on a RC Plane”