FOSDEM Sees Surprise Pico Balloon Event

Showing balloon rising up, not too far from the ground, with one of the FOSDEM buildings and sky in the background

At any vaguely-related conferences, groups of hackers sometimes come together to create an impact, and sometimes that impact is swinging something into an airspace of a neighboring country. [deadprogram] tells us that such a thing happened at FOSDEM, where a small group of hackers came together (Nitter) to assemble, program and launch a pico balloon they named TinyGlobo 1, which then flew all the way to France!

This balloon is built around a RP2040, and the firmware is written in TinyGo, a version of Go language for microcontroller use. As is fitting for a hacker group, both the hardware and software are open source. Don’t expect custom PCBs though, as it’s a thoroughly protoboarded build. But a few off-the-shelf modules will get you the same hardware that just flew a 400km route! For build experiences, there’s also a few tweets from the people involved, and a launch video, also embedded below.

This reminds us of the Supercon 2022 balloon story — darn copycats! If you’re interested in the more Earthly details of this year’s FOSDEM open source development conference, check out our recent coverage.

23 thoughts on “FOSDEM Sees Surprise Pico Balloon Event

  1. At the provided Twitter link: “Chinese spy balloons.”

    The current clown world troupe in charge in the US federal government draw ridicule for grossly overcompensating after failing to shoot down this actual 200 foot diameter Chinese spy balloon until after it had flown over the US:

    Chinese spy balloons have flown over multiple continents as tracked by, I assume, their data transmissions as detected by US ELINT satellites. Here’s a video of one over Japan with rotating propellers seen:

    Japan Strongly Presumes Chinese Spy Balloons Entered Its Airspace
    16 Feb 2023

    Translation of video notes:

    As the dispute between the US and China over the spy balloon continues Japan has also levelled allegations against the Dragon Government. Japan’s defence ministry said it had seen three flying objects in its airspace since 2019. One of them flew to the southwest and the other two to the north. Japan said it strongly believed the flying objects were Chinese spy balloons. It said it had sought an explanation from China on the issue. In 2020, a balloon-like flying object was spotted in Miyagi, Japan. Footage of the same was released by the media there. Japanese lawmakers said they were currently considering amending the Self-Defense Force Act, which limits the use of weapons to emergency or self-defense only. Violation of Japanese airspace by foreign balloons will also be included, he said.

      1. So by your logic only elected officials of France are allowed to call out littering in that country?

        I admire (and occasionally participate in) projects that build high altitude balloons, autonomous ships, floating buoys etc. But that doesn’t mean that one should be mindful about the ratio of how much trash is created for how much entertainment/education.

        That ratio may be a personal decision, but you shouldn’t slam someone for pointing out the issue.

        1. Chinese lanterns are a serious litter hazzard, so why not Pico ballons as well? I guess it’s down to how widely used they are, but with all the current interest it could be a growing threat to the environment and livestock.

          1. These are a lot worse than Chinese lanterns. With a Chinese lantern it is mostly just paper and a metal frame, with the Pico balloon it is PCBs, other parts and a battery of some sort too (don’t know which but I really hope they didn’t use a lipo), all things that are worse for the environment than some paper and metal. It is also just a waste of parts for a little fun, just to have them fall down in some random part of France.

        2. The individual responsibility argument is all good and well, but it is imperative you focus on things of respectable scale first and foremost. And, keeping the scale in mind, “reconsider launching picoballoons because of non-zero level of waste” is on the same level as “don’t let your kid participate in an arts&crafts class” – yknow, arts&crafts supplies result in very much non-zero amount of waste, as much as we try to keep it down, all manufacturing does.

          Think of it this way – spending time pointing out picoballoons can be jarring when you notice that your solution require limiting hobbyist creativity for a comparably rare event, and then consider the sheer scale of way more entrenched individual and corporate pollution that we are actively staying blind to. It’s unsustainable to pull people into a tragedy of the commons every time there’s *technically* an opening, other sides of the equation be damned – it becomes a slog.

          I can highly recommend joining your local anti-coal mine protest instead, they could always use more people! ^~^

          1. The problem in this case isn’t the waste that is generated but where. You are dropping electrical components and balloons somewhere in France and they won’t break down, something could come along and try to eat them or get caught in the balloons or if a lipo battery was used it could cause a fire. So the argument isn’t the waste itself but where it ends up and what happens to it.

            You compare it to arts and crafts for kids but most people aren’t going to take all that waste and dump it randomly, they will either recycle it or get it dealt with properly which is a lot different to sending up a balloon and having it crash somewhere random. It is irresponsible to send balloons up with electronic components it you aren’t 100% sure you are going to recover it and it does count as littering.

          2. I don’t consider it legitimate to talk about picoballoon ‘pollution’ and ‘waste’. The pollution and waste problem we’re facing is an existential threat that kills obscene amounts of people every year, facilitated by large entities like governments and corporations that financially benefit from muddying the pollution conversation. Inquiries into picoballoons are nothing but a distraction in this context. My recommendation – let people have fun and explore this world, and make sure your priorities are in order.

  2. I was trying to understand the starting point for the balloon, since neither the article nor the links I checked mentioned it. Looking up Fosdem, it appears to be based in Brussels.

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