Glowing Balloon Blimps


Looking for a neat decoration for your next soirée? How about floating fleet of glowing balloon blimps?

[Kensho Miyoshi] — an avid reader of Hack a Day — needed an art installation project in Tokyo, he came up with these clever glowing balloon blimps.

They feature a mini gondola hanging from the bottom of a regular balloon which holds a small motor with a propeller, an Arduino Pro Mini, LEDs, an ultrasonic sensor and of course, a battery. They float up to a certain height with the LEDs shining bright, and when the ultrasonic sensor trips, it all turns off and the balloon sinks gently back to the ground. The process repeats, and in a completely dark room it looks like a series of glowing bubbles forming and floating away, again and again.

To see the floaty, glowy, balloon blimps, stick around for a video after the break.

We’ve also covered a similar project recently on how to make a $13 remote-controlled balloon blimp using those micro-scale RC cars, a great project for young hackers.

26 thoughts on “Glowing Balloon Blimps

  1. Ok, I is confused, not very well described.

    So it’s just an air-filled balloon, no lifting gas?

    The lift is provided entirely by the propeller, that can’t be right, it’s be all over the show.

    I think it must be helium filled, only way it makes sense.

    Or is the LED inside the balloon sufficient to heat the air enough, I can’t imagine so with just a little led. That said, an electrically heated balloon is an interesting idea..,. hmmm, I wonder how much heat is necessary.

  2. The LEDs aren’t inside the balloons, they’re on the gondola. The balloon + gondola is heavier than air, but the balloon itself is lighter than air (helium filled). When the propeller runs it provides enough thrust to lift the balloon. When it cuts out, the balloon sinks.
    I was scratching my head at first too.

    1. because use fans is a waste of energy, you just want that your baloon float? than use helium and let the density make his job! You have than more energy, it can works longer, or go faster,etc..
      (sorry for the bad english, i hope you understand ;)

      1. Yes, I understand perfectly. Where is the mention of helium in the project writeup? You’ve just admitted that it is not necessary- just use more energy for the fan.

        I hope the designer of this project will comment here, since he is allegedly a regular reader.

        1. I’m not sure why you brought quadcopters into the discussion. This project uses a single propeller to provide lift. Neither the authors write up nor HaDs mention multiple props. A calm bubbling art display would be ruined by then drone of 4brushless motors going full throttle to raise the leds. If you’re going to use a balloon as a diffusor why not have it provide lift as well?

    2. “A quadcopter has fans for lift, but no helium.”

      So do rockets but you won’t get many visitors to your rocket-propelled arduino laden party.

      Similarly, a dark room filled with barely controlled quadcopters may be a party that that can only be enjoyed by not attending.

    3. The other factor is that doing it this way means you don’t have to put much effort into keeping the system stable. A quadcopter relies on computer control for its stability. A simple set of propellers by themselves won’t hover, without some clever tricks.

      Using the balloon means that when the fan is running, the balloon component wants to rise vertically while the gondola still wants to sink (the fan only partly counteracts its weight). This keeps the system orientated vertically.

    4. Andrew, read the blog page, not just the HaD article:

      “The helium-filled blimp goes up by rotating its propeller.”

      Helium has clearly been mentioned right at the top of the page, just after the materials list.

      Nitpicking aside: neat project. I like the simple design of the gondolas. I’d imagine this would look pretty amazing with 100+ balloons.

  3. Thanks for comments. As jpa mentioned, the balloons are filled with helium.
    The concept of the blimps is “the minimum style of blimps as performance media”. Actuation, autonomy and visual effects – these elements are necessary for blimps as performance media, and I implemented the example from minimum level of each element.

    1. You could do it with discrete hardware timers and counters. But that’d be simpler with an MCU. And Arduinos are just a low-soldering MCU system. Apart from perhaps a few mm2 of PCB space and a few connectors, it already is as simple as it can be. An Arduino isn’t really elaborate in itself.

    1. Good point. “At the rate we’re using helium, scientists fear we could exhaust our supply in 30 years.” Since it is used for medical purposes too, my kids won’t be getting any helium balloons…and that’s OK.

      1. It’s really a government issue, they’re sick of the cost of warehousing the stuff so they’re letting it go at clearance prices. It’s only because there’s a stockpile to get rid of that it’s so cheap, if it reflected the cost of production it wouldn’t be. And yep helium is a very finite resource.

        As you, Tim and strongforce, no doubt know, the world’s helium comes from alpha particles emitted by radioactive rocks way down deep. Most of it floats to the top of the atmosphere and floats off into space. The stuff we have is from the small proportion caught in pockets in things like natural gas reserves. It took billions of years to form, then just stuck there. If we let it all out, that’s 99% of cryogenic science gone, as well as all the instruments it cools, in satellites, particle detectors, and medicine.

        It doesn’t cost *that* much to store, compared to all the wars we apparently need to keep having. But that’s governments for you.

        It might be wise for science foundations and the like to buy a lot of it up, while it’s so cheap. Once they have the whole supply, they can charge what they want, more responsible prices based on it’s future worth. This is something, valuing the future, that capitalist economics is abominably bad at. And the only balloons will be scientific ones! I remember when helium balloons were rare to see as a kid. We survived!

        Some scientists are complaining about the whole situation, there’s a Youtube video where somebody shows you his University’s huge helium recovery system. But beardy guys moanings don’t change the world much unfortunately, it could do with some money.

  4. I’d like more information on the LEDs illuminating the balloon. The last time I checked, the NWS used a big water-activated battery hanging off of a pilot balloon to light up an external beacon (as well as power any on-board electronics. I wonder if it would make things easier to spot in the theodolite if you could light up the balloon itself, in addition to lowering the launch weight a bit by using smaller batteries/lamps/etc.

  5. someone needs to hook this idea to the swarming drone thingummies, and then we could have a giant rgb led balloon display. with like… a million balloons. the warms that are more modular, each knowing what shape(or picture) to make, but only paying attention to the adjacent drones.

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