Helicopter POV Display Is A Masterwork

helicopter hack LED mod

Yes! A radio control helicopter with a fairly high-resolution persistence-of-vision display is a beautiful thing. [Mziwisky’s] handiwork is the result of several steps along the prototyping path. He built up a POV test rig on a breadboard, designed his first PCB for the project, and then went to work building it. After initially being inspired by a POV ceiling fan [Mziwisky] looked around to see if anyone else had already added a display to a helicopter. Indeed, this has been done before but there were very few details on the build.

The helicopter has two blades and each have the same hardware on them and gobbled up about ten hours of assembly time each. He basically built a printed circuit board using the blades as a substrate by attaching adhesive copper foil. This makes up the matrix for the LEDs and connects to a small circuit board with an ATmega8 and some shift registers mounted on the inside end of the blade. There’s also a 180 mAh LiPo battery pack, and a hall effect sensor to synchronize the display on each. The results are spectacular, as you can see in the video after the break, but there’s a few bugs left to work out in order to fully tame the 32 LEDs on each rotor.

Kind of looks like the future is happening right now.


22 thoughts on “Helicopter POV Display Is A Masterwork

  1. I guess one can’t be a fan of a helicopter.
    You can be a blade :-)

    Some day i guess we will see this on real helicopters. I imagine “Pull over” on the police chopper or some station logo on the news chopper

  2. Hey thanks for the interest, guys! Drake is correct, it is a 3D heli. So far though, it hasn’t seen any inverted flight with the lights on it — it’s much heavier in the air (i.e. takes significantly more throttle to get it flying), and the thought of crashing with those blades on it horrifies me!

    You can see in the video MWS referenced that there are gold lights on the bottom, so I can easily tell the orientation of it while it’s in the air. And yes, the bottom lights are partly blocked by the body of the heli, but you can still see what’s going on pretty well.

  3. i can see this being very popular on those small indoor $20 helis.. :-)

    could probably make the entire blade out of polymorph or opaque casting resin with the LEDs exposed, and it would be pretty robust.

  4. I can see a business case for serving ads using this technology on full size helis. Like “Watch NBC tonite” on the TV helicopter or “buckle up” and “don’t drink and drive” on the PD chopper.

  5. @sarsface Yes, the blades adjust the update frequency every revolution. A counter is used to measure how many clock ticks occur between revolutions, then that value is divided by 256 and stored in a register. Another timer starts counting at zero, and each time it reaches the value stored in the register, it resets itself and triggers the lights. So I always get 256 “slices” per revolution, regardless of the RPM.

  6. Wow.

    Im thinking it needs rgb LEDs

    Do you have any idea how much easier to fly an RC heli would be if the rotor changed color depending on the angle? – if it went green at proper head speed, then stayed green on “level” and turned red on the “low side” – it could display an arrow indicating heading.. ON the rotor!

    the possibilities if you could feed telemetry would be almost endless.

    Thinking bigger- Why not have full animated displays on the topside of REAL heli rotors, fed from underside cameras. – Active camouflage against top-down viewing.

    Or in civillian applications , covering the bottom side with animated billboards- Blade Runner tech is here!

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