Because nothing says “fun for kids” like barbed wire and hypodermic needles, here’s an interactive real-world game that everyone can enjoy. Think of it as a kinder, gentler version of Robot Wars, where the object of the game is to pop the balloon on the other player’s robot before yours get popped. Sounds simple, but the simple games are often the most engaging, and that sure seems to be the case here.
The current incarnation of “Bubble Blast” stems from a project [Niklas Roy] undertook for a festival in Tunisia in 2017. That first version used heavily hacked toy RC cars controlled with arcade joysticks. It was a big hit with the crowd, so [Niklas] built a second version for another festival, and incorporated lessons learned from version 1.0. The new robots are built from scratch from 3D-printed parts. Two motors drive each bot, with remote control provided by a 433-MHz transceiver module. The UI was greatly improved with big trackballs, also scratch built. The game field was expanded and extra obstacles were added, including a barbed wire border as a hazard to the festooned bots. And just for fun, [Niklas] added a bubble machine, also built from scratch.
The game looks like a ton of fun, and seems like one of those things you’ve got to shoo the adults away from so the kids can enjoy it too. But if you need more gore from your robot deathmatch than a limp balloon, here’s a tabletop robot war that’s sure to please.
Here’s something really wonderful. [Dave Akerman] wrote up the results of his attempt to use a high-altitude balloon to try to re-create a famous image of NASA’s Bruce McCandless floating freely in space with the Earth in the background. [Dave] did this in celebration of the 34th anniversary of the first untethered spacewalk, even going so far as to launch on the same day as the original event in 1984. He had excellent results, with plenty of video and images recorded by his payload.
Adhering to the actual day of the spacewalk wasn’t the only hurdle [Dave] jumped to make this happen. He tracked down an old and rare “Astronaut with MMU” (Mobile Maneuvering Unit) plastic model kit made by Revell USA and proceeded to build it and arrange for it to remain in view of the cameras. Raspberry Pi Zero Ws with cameras, LoRA hardware, action cameras, and a UBlox GPS unit all make an appearance in the balloon’s payload.
Sadly, [Bruce McCandless] passed away in late 2017, but this project is a wonderful reminder of that first untethered spacewalk. Details on the build and the payload, as well as the tracking system, are covered here on [Dave]’s blog. Videos of the launch and the inevitable balloon burst are embedded below, but more is available in the summary write-up.
Calling [Matt Barr]’s remote controlled hot air balloon a miniature is a bit misleading. Sure, it’s small compared with the balloons that ply cold morning skies with paying passengers and a bottle of champagne for the landing. Having been in on a few of those landings, we can attest to the size of the real thing. They’re impressively big when you’re up close to them.
While [Matt]’s balloon is certainly smaller, it’s not something you’d just whip together in an afternoon. Most of [Matt]’s build log concentrates mainly on the gondola and its goodies — the twin one-pound camp stove-style propane tanks, their associated plumbing, and the burner, a re-tasked propane weed torch from Harbor Freight. Remote control is minimal; just as in a full-size balloon, all the pilot can really do is turn the burner on or off. [Matt]’s approach is a high-torque RC servo to control the burner valve, which is driven by an Arduino talking to the ground over a 2.4-GHz RF link. The balloon is big enough to lift 30 pounds and appears to be at least 12 feet tall; we’d think such a craft would run afoul of some civil aviation rules, so perhaps it’s best that the test flight below was a tethered one.
We’ve had our eye on [Greg Zumwalt]. He’s been working on some very clever 3D-printed mechanisms and his latest prototype is an air engine for a toy car. You can supply the air for the single cylinder with a compressor, or by blowing into it, but attaching an inflated balloon makes the system self-contained.
Last week we saw the prototype of the engine by itself, and wondered if this had enough power to drive a little train engine. We were almost right as here it is powering the front wheels of a little car.
This isn’t [Greg’s] first rodeo. He’s been working on self-contained locomotion for a while now. Shown here is his spring-driven car which you pull backwards to load the spring. It’s a common feature in toys, and very neat to see with the included 3D-printed spring hidden inside of the widest gear.
That print looks spectacular, but the balloon-powered prototype tickles our fancy quite a bit more. Make sure you have your sound on when you watch the video after the break. It’s the chuga-chuga that puts this one over the top. [Greg] hasn’t yet posted files so you can print your own (it’s still a prototype) but browse the rest of his designs as you wait — they’re numerous and will bring an even bigger smile to your face. Remember that domino-laying LEGO bot [Matthias Wandel] built a few years back? [Greg] has a printable model for it!
High-altitude balloons are used to perform experiments in “near space” at 60,000-120,000 ft. (18000-36000m). However, conditions at such altitude are not particularly friendly and balloons have to compete with ultraviolet radiation, bad weather and the troubles of long distance communication. The trick is to send up a live entity to make repairs as needed. A group of students from Stanford University and Brown University repurposed nature in their solution. Enter Bioballoon: a living high-altitude research balloon.
Instead of using inorganic materials, the Stanford-Brown International Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) team designed microbes that grow the components required to build various tools and structures with the hope of making sustained space research feasible. Being made of living material, Bioballoon can be grown and re-grown with the same bacteria, lowering the cost of manufacturing and improving repeatability.
No matter whether you call them “picosatellites” or “high altitude balloons” or “spaceblimps”, launching your own electronics package into the air, collecting some high-altitude photos and data, and then picking the thing back up is a lot of fun. It’s also educational and inspirational. We’re guessing that 264 students from 30 high schools in Aguascalientes Mexico have new background screens on their laptops today thanks to the CatSat program (translated here by robots, and there’s also a video to check out below).
High-altitude balloon flights have become somewhat of a known quantity these days. Although it’s still a fun project that’ll bring your hackerspace together on a complex challenge, after the first balloon or two, everyone starts to wonder”what next?”. Higher? Faster? Further? Cheaper? More science? There are a variety of different challenges out there.
A group of Stanford students just bagged a new record, longest time in flight, with their SSI-41 mission. In addition to flying from coast to coast, on a track that went waaaay up into Canadian airspace, they logged 79 hours of flight time.
The secret? Val-Bal. A “valve ballast” gas venting valve and ballast dispenser system that kept the balloon from going too high (and popping) or dropping back down to earth. The balance seems to have worked nearly perfectly — check the altitude profile graph. We’d love to see more details about this system. If anyone out there on the team does a writeup, let us know?
There are as many interesting ways to get into high-altitude ballooning as there are hackers. We love the extreme economy of the Pico Space Balloon project, which has gone around the world (twice!) on a solar-powered party balloon. And we’ll give both the best-name and ridiculous-concept awards to the Tetroon. But for now, most time aloft goes to the Stanford team. Congrats!